by Ali MacGraw as told to Elise Ballard
“Every one of us has to pick our own way through the land mines of life—no one can or should do it for us. Sometimes the most extravagant pain is the gateway to something incandescent.”—Ali MacGraw
Epiphany is a word that appeals to me a lot. To my mind, it refers to an overwhelming burst of light that feels like it’s changing your life right down to the cells in your body. When I heard the title of your book, I thought, “Yes, I did have one of those.” And it surprised me. It came out of nowhere. I did not have it sitting in church. And I’ve been to church a lot. I did not have it sitting in a temple. I’ve been there. I’ve sampled every imaginable religion with respect and curiosity, and sometimes I’ve been very, very moved. But I never had the gut “hit” that I longed for. There’s a huge difference between the brain wanting to believe and the heart and gut knowing and feeling that something is true. To be honest, for at least twenty years or more I have been trying to consciously find faith and live in it. Do you dare turn over this situation, whatever it might be, to a Higher Power? I absolutely wanted to, but I could feel myself holding back.
At the end of 2009, for many reasons, my private life was very, very difficult. Quite a few people who mattered to me tremendously were suffering, and I wanted to help. I knew I was powerless to do anything, really, but I couldn’t let go of my desire to. I have always been a high-energy, tightly wrapped, very controlling person. This has been the uncomfortable truth of my behavior. I try to fix everything. I want so badly to make everything right for everyone and everything—which is actually incredible arrogance on my part. I think a lot of us are caretakers. Some of it comes from having a good heart; some of it comes from needing to control things. But there comes a point where you have to turn it over to something much bigger than yourself. The question is whether you’re able to.
There was one particular person in my life who was going through something really quite frightening, and I clearly couldn’t make it okay. This person means so much to me that I was going through tremendous sorrow—heaviness, tears, frustrations, and anger. I was wound even more tightly than usual.
Since I believe that the cleanest, healthiest body is the best way we can choose to live, I go to a cutting-edge medical facility periodically for detox, and I went there during this time. One of the tools at this facility involves working with sound and light, and I went into the session having no idea what to expect. I don’t know what in the world they were doing exactly with this incomprehensible mixture of light and sound, but I was stunned by what happened to me.
During that session, I had the most dramatic, crystal-clear, light-drenched experience. It was like a shatteringly brilliant hit in my third eye and heart that made me feel that I finally could, and absolutely had to, connect with a Higher Power. Instantly I felt as if elephants had stepped off my chest. There was suddenly a lightness and a lack of that pressure you sometimes feel behind your eyes even when your mouth is smiling.
Nobody who had been to this facility told me this might happen. And maybe it doesn’t happen to anybody else. It doesn’t matter. But in an absolute moment, I saw something clearly: we have our own paths, and sometimes the things we stumble upon that seem horrendous are part of a larger plan for us. I had a moment of absolute clarity in which I saw that reality is a much bigger picture than my tiny vision can grasp. In the larger reality, sometimes the most extravagant pain is the gateway to some- thing incandescent. I’ve always thought this intellectually, but that moment allowed me to get it. It was actually the biggest, most completely specific “oh, I get it” moment that I can ever remember. It was as if I heard: “Okay. Are you listening? This is it. This is what you have to do—you have to live your life in faith.”
In that moment, I became clear about faith—about the absolute truth of the power of the Light, about the power of Love without judgment. Entrusting the people and things we care about to that Light is the best we can do. We’ve all read about this concept ad nauseam, but it’s another thing to feel it. In a very unintellectual way, I had a very deep experience of…I use the word God, but without any connotations that come with an organized religion. It was absolutely in my solar plexus, and in my heart.
My experience is very personal. I’ve only told my son and a few friends about this. Mine may not be as specific in some ways as other people’s epiphanies, but it was enormous for me, and it has altered me. Certainly I am very clear that I know nothing—meaning that my life will always be a work in progress—but I am beginning to learn to live a different way. I know I am changing. I learned something that I know my friends will notice. I am becoming more peaceful, less controlling, and less narrow. I’m ever so slowly stopping my compulsion to fix, fix, fix—and with that has come tremendous relief. I feel as if I’d been wearing an enormous bandage, and suddenly it unwrapped. I am freer, much freer. It’s wonderful to look at things in a more peaceful, more permissive way. I am learning the power of true compassion and the importance of stepping back with love. I know now that my idea of what’s good for people is not necessarily the whole story. You can wish people well, offer them kindness and supporting prayers. But then you have to permit them to follow their own paths, helping where you can, but knowing that you probably cannot change them. I’ve realized that that is the greatest gift that we have to offer.
Every one of us gets to find our way, hopefully surrounded by love, but we still have to pick out our own way through the land mines of life. By accepting this and relinquishing control, there’s just extraordinary beauty.
Ali MacGraw is an internationally known, award-winning actress, author, and activist. She starred in the critically acclaimed and international blockbuster hit films Goodbye Columbus, The Getaway, and Love Story (for which she received a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award nomination), the epic miniseries The Winds of War, and the popular TV series Dynasty. Her autobiography, Moving Pictures, was an international bestseller, and her yoga video Ali MacGraw Yoga Mind and Body was a bestseller upon release and is still popular more than a decade later. She travels extensively, appearing in documentaries and working on behalf of numerous social, animal, and environmental causes.
About the Epiphany Series:
This is an excerpt from the AWAKENINGS section of my book, Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage, and Transform, a heartfelt journey full of amazing stories of fascinating people, from world-renowned figures, thought leaders, and performers—such as Maya Angelou, Dr. Oz, Desmond Tutu, Deepak Chopra and Barry Manilow—to former inmates, leading psychologists, teachers, homemakers, and many more. We’ve found these stories contain wisdom and insight that will inspire—or cause you to remember—your own epiphanies so we wanted to share pieces of them every week with you here on Positively Positive. You can also visit my website, EpiphanyChannel.com,