Have you ever watched a suspenseful movie in which some character, often a policeman, puts together a few clues that lead him to an epiphany? Whether or not that epiphany is conclusive or that epiphany leads him to connect even more clues into even more clarity about some other characters in the plot, the sudden connection provides the character with some ground breaking realization and a new perspective on the information he had been analyzing for a long time prior.
Once this realization occurs, it cannot be undone.
The epiphany cannot be unwound.
In fact, it takes an exorbitant amount of energy to reject, suppress, or forget the realization. It cuts through the character's ego and makes sense on the most internal level. Everything is aligned.
If the character is a policeman, the plot often leads to an arrest but it also offers powerful humility for the policeman when he learns the weight of his clarity and how much he may not know about himself, life, or the world on a regular basis.
This also plays out in movies with wild twist endings in which a character puts all the pieces together and the audience is afforded flashbacks to earlier scenes that explain the whopping reveal at the end. Our minds are blown just as much as that character's.
After the movie concludes, we the audience cannot unlearn what we learned or forget the twisty truth that was unveiled at the end of the movie. This is why we have such a dramatically different perspective on the movie when we watch it a second time. We cannot NOT know the truth anymore.
In fact, we see mind blowing movies multiple times because we want to pay attention to all of the scenes differently for clues that hint at the twist that we know is coming. It is like we watch a totally different movie every time and we continue to learn more details that reinforce the big realization.
How did the policeman, for example, finally piece the clues together and have that realization?
A lot of breakthroughs seem to occur by chance but, as Louis Pasteur famously said, "Chance favors the prepared mind". The policeman must first prepare himself for the breakthrough by devoting himself to the work needed to get there. In his case it is commitment to his job and the specific case.
The next step, though, is the most important.
The next step is the abandonment of at least some of the ego.
The policeman must get to a point where he is fed up, pissed off, and the words "giving up" float through his mind. He must ease off the throttle fighting the narcissistic wound of failure and anger in order to invite a little humility in to free up space in his mind.
And that is the moment that he sees the picture on his desk that he needed to see. Or he saw the name that had not registered since the beginning of the investigation. And the heavens open.
In the movie Prisoners, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, Gyllenhaal's character is a cop who gets so enraged at the fruitless investigation that he smashes all of the stuff on his desk and throws things around. Only when he slumped into his chair and felt the humility of helplessness fall over him did he see a certain photograph on the floor and put a few clues together that he had not connected before.
The Locked Door
This is the same as with self-reflection.
Millions of people want to learn something about themselves or change something about their lives but they remain in a state of arrogance thinking that it will sort itself out or that the solution to their case will magically arise. We do not know that we already have all the clues we need to unravel the mystery of who we are or what we want. Our ego sends arrogance to get in the way so as to avoid feeling incompetence or failure.
But then we get fed up. We get pissed off. We go out and drink and complain to our friends that we are stuck on hamster wheels and everything is terrible. This is the anger of Jake Gyllenhaal's character, except so often we do not allow ourselves to get to a tipping point. We do not want to cause a scene. We still do not want to feel incompetent or learn that the life or career or relationship we have settled for is somehow unhealthy, which would mean that our choices have been somehow wrong.
This is why so many of us remain at jobs we do not like and never get to the point of wanting to flip our desks over and storm out.
Reflection requires humility.
It requires the slightest bit of acceptance that we have been wrong. Like the policeman after staring at the clues for so long with too much arrogance that he will figure it all out, we must accept that we are not all-powerful. That we must learn as we go.
The moment can occur anywhere: at home, at the bar, at the office, in rush hour traffic. That little bit of humility, when we finally let down our shoulders and step back from fighting ourselves for a moment, shows you the door to the most beautiful knowledge about yourself that will make sense of your past and empower your future.
Finding the door is not enough, of course. Especially with something as powerful as a life-changing realization or a clue that breaks a policeman's case, the door must come with a lock. Beyond his devotion to the solution, his experience of fed up anger and incompetence, and his newfound sliver of humility, the policeman must have a singular question that he is trying to answer.
This singular question is the key that directs him to the breakthrough.
We all have a different question that unlocks the door and directs our introspection. Here are some examples:
Why am I still at this job?
Why am I such a loser?
Why doesn't my girlfriend / boyfriend listen to me?
Why can't I grow my business?
Why am I so angry all the time?
They are curiosity questions that arise from an inner sense of helplessness, recognizing that we somehow feel trapped and do not know how to escape whatever our cage is. Despite the horrible feeling of helplessness, your unique question provides the unique key for your unique door through which you will find your breakthrough.
What stage of this process are you in?
Devotion to your daily routine?
Fed up and pissed off?
Helpless and sad?
Humble and open?
Breaking through to your epiphany?
No matter which stage you are in, what is your question?