The Metropolis

The five best places in London to have an epiphany

Mike Pollitt | Tuesday 25 June, 2013 11:20

London in the early 21st century is a confusing place and time to be alive – what with all the changing technology, unpredictable weather and constantly evolving pop-up food scene we’re having.

What’s missing is some mental clarity.

This, trendwatchers, means that epiphanies are set to become the next big thing. And if you want to keep ahead of the dullard, unenlightened masses, you’d better start planning your next moment of revelation.

This handy guide will show you the best places in London to go cruising for an intellectual orgasm, and what sort of epiphany you should expect when you get there.

The park

Image by Nevalenx on Flickr (Creative Commons)

The key to having an epiphany in the park is positioning. It’s emphatically not enough just to go to the nearest park and expect an epiphany to happen. They don’t grow on trees.

To increase your chances of an epiphany, you should place yourself under (but not fully under) a tree (preferably, but not necessarily, an aged oak.) Aim for dappled shade.

You should be far enough away from other park goers, with their flirting and their dogs and their cans of red stripe, that they won’t disturb you. You should be close enough to them that their muffled sounds provide a backdrop of mundanity for your experience to rend asunder.

Once in place, you should lie on your back, and stare very, very hard at the sky beyond the canopy. Shift your gaze to the leaves. Look not at them, but through them. You are now watching cosmic light being filtered through leaves. It’s epiphany central.

Now you want to think, and think, and think. Get a rhythm to you thoughts. Think a bit faster. Think. Bit slower now. That’s it. Keep doing that. You’ve got it.

Two words of caution

1. If you’re going to do this in conker season, avoid lying under horse chestnuts, or wear protection (a bicycle helmet).
2. When you are staring at the sky, be sure not to stare directly at the sun. If you do stare directly at the sun, you might think that you’ve experienced an epiphany when you have in fact permanently damaged your retinas. In the long run, this is not the same thing.

The tube

Image by zoonabar on Flickr (Creative Commons)

The tube is, in all but one respect, a terrible place to find an epiphany. It’s mentally and physically draining. It’s saturated by intolerable but unavoidable audible sludge. There are people all up in your space. It’s a place the mind comes to hibernate, not to soar.

The tube’s redeeming graces are its memories.

Memories are often the trigger for epiphanic thought and the tube is a rabbit warren of them. A map of the tube is a map of memory stations.

Imagine with me: your train stops at Old St, let’s say. You have been to Old St many times. As the carriage pulls in to the platform, your mind floats upwards above the train, the platform, the tube, and alights above ground – ah – remember a night you spent in the bars round here, years ago now, with people you will never see again. Remember it. Remember them. For they include your former self.

And so it goes, line by line. Each station is a memory, each memory a epiphany seed.

A bridge across the Thames

Image by sparkynufc_86 on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Don’t look at the skyline in this photograph. It’s banal. Look above it at the sky. Look below it at the water.

If you can’t get yourself to epiphany while standing on a bridge and looking down into the blankly drifting waters of the Thames, symbolising as they do the rivers of life, of time, of love, and representing as they do the pumping lifeblood of London itself…well…it might be that epiphanies just aren’t the thing for you. The technique here is simple:

  • DO stand there and look at the water
  • DO try to time your arrival for sunrise or sunset
  • DO be patient
  • DON’T get distracted and start playing poohsticks with tourists.

The British Museum

Image of the Queen of the Night Relief from the British Museum (Wikimedia Commons – photographer Manuel Parada López de Corselas)

The epiphany you experience here will probably be of a rather inferior class. It will be something rather obvious, even sentimental, about your place in the grand sweep of human history etc etc and so on.

For example, the photo above is of a relief depicting a Babylonian goddess from the early second century BC.

NOTE: You won’t have an epiphany in front of this relief if you get distracted by the owls.

But you might have an epiphany if you tune out the owls, let your eyes drift to the yonic infinity at the relief’s core, and think slightly sentimentally about your place in the grand sweep of human history.

Sometimes a quick, no-nonsense, slightly dirty epiphany is exactly what you need.

A rooftop bar

Image of London rooftops from Mary Poppins

Any time you find yourself on a rooftop in Hackney or Peckham (or Kensington, if you insist), listening to some “rooftopgaze” and shivering from the cold, is a good time to perform a complete reassessment of everything you think is important in life. The sky above, the city below, just you and your drink in the netherworld between. Who are you? And what the hell do you thing you’re doing?

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