(This article, which features Landmark Forum Leader David Cunningham talking about epiphanies, contains excerpts from an article from the Cape Cod Times).

How does a destructive alcoholic stop drinking?

How does a soldier decide a war is wrong?

One answer can be an epiphany — a sudden insight into the essential. Such an insight can transform the mundane into the miraculous, a problem into a possibility.

The pain for Joe Navas of Eastham was both physical and psychological.

He was depressed and had been drinking in reaction to his father's death when Navas was just a young man. "From the age of 26 to 29," Navas says, "I was a hard-core alcoholic. Early one morning in August 1999, after a night of drinking, I woke coughing up blood. There were neon-colored things coming out of me. I diagnosed myself in liver failure."

For Cole Morton, emotional pain came when what he'd based a large part of his life on suddenly seemed to have no meaning.
He'd been brought up to be extremely patriotic in the 1940s and 1950s, so he signed up to serve in Vietnam. He learned Vietnamese and saw bloody action while in the Marines in 1967-68. He saw many of his men killed or badly wounded; he gave the orders to fire, causing "catastrophic death and destruction to enemy soldiers and innocent civilians."

In January 1968, he gathered a group of Vietnamese children and fed them Christmas cookies from his wife while they all sang songs. He suggested they sing ‘Ngay Nan Mem Oy,’ about boys and girls enjoying freedom and democracy, and none of the children knew the song. "There was a flash in my mind that said, 'What are we doing here?' All of a sudden, I felt I was being personally violated. I'd come to Vietnam believing I was doing my patriotic duty, bringing freedom and democracy to Vietnam. At that moment, I realized I'd been lied to by my own government."

Looking back at these painful moments, however, Navas and Morton see their anguish in a new light: They now see that what had been so painful led them to an awakening.

An epiphany.

“Epiphanies seem to happen in an instant," says David Cunningham, a senior Program Leader at Landmark Education, a San Francisco-based international training and development company that offers programs focusing on success and fulfillment.
"Actually, there are three stages. First, the person sees into what was previously a blind spot. It is not something that wasn't there, but something they could not see before. For example, if you were walking in the woods and someone said, 'There's a bird,' and all of a sudden, you see it. Second, they realize that the particular view of life that they had wasn't real, but was a view. Finally, in a critical step, once they get a new view, they see they have a power they didn't have before."

The source of epiphanies, Cunningham says, "is a conversation with other people or with yourself. Suddenly there is an alternative conversation; you see different things."

Navas' epiphany led him to realize that he didn't want to die.
"More than wanting to live for myself, I knew that my mom, who had lost so many people in her family already, would not want to live without me," he says. "I didn't want to die. It would be like murdering my mother."

Navas has been sober for eight years and has become a runner, winning or achieving respectable times in more than 70 races around Cape Cod, Boston and Colorado.

"My life has been getting better and better and I hope my story can act as a catalyst for someone else," he says. "There is always room for change."

Morton's epiphany that Americans were not going to bring democracy to Vietnam, and most locals didn't know why the war was happening, led to huge changes in his life. After he got home, his shock at his participation in the war scared his wife and himself; they divorced. He's now a published author and member of Veterans for Peace, speaking out to students and other young people.

According to David Cunningham, “The power of the past is what we have decided about it. What impacts us today are the conclusions we have drawn about those events. Although we cannot change the events of the past, the good news is that we can change what we decided about the past. We can pull our decisions about the past into the light of day and then the cascade that leads to epiphanies can start."

Author's Bio: 

Osander is a writer and world traveler who writes about people and communities coming together.