Back in December, I went to a live show for the podcast of Big Fish screenwriter, John August. As he talked about those big climactic changes that characters have made by the end of a great movie, he remarked that in our lifetimes, we really don’t tend to have more than four or five “movie moments” each.
I really wanted to disagree with this; at the time, I felt like I’d had one a month over the previous year alone. I thought they were very up to me, in my control, if only I could wake up every day and remember to push myself to grow. I just had to actively move into that space beyond my comfort zone, shine a bright light on the ways in which I was allowing myself to live in denial and get the hell out of my own way.
I’m only just now starting to understand what John meant, because the big changes – the ones that challenge us in ways that can radically alter the course of our lives, the ones that can make us more whole – come around only a few times.
The thing about these rare and few movie moments is that they’re an opportunity, not a guarantee.
They’re not some collaboration of the external world pulling forces to hand you the thing you most want.
They don’t refer to those times in our lives when we’re validated for the things we’re really good at, our individual superpowers.
And I no longer think that they’re the constant byproduct of the incremental changes that are happening all the time, the ones that add up to something bigger but that aren’t so perceptible as they’re happening. These surely aren’t nothing, but they just aren’t your big movie moments either.
Movie moments are different.
They require courage and perseverance in ways we’ve never had to draw upon them, in ways that shake us up and make us question whether we’re able to overcome the obstacle in front of us.
Because the thing about these movie moments is that the obstacle is always ourselves.
When the problem is within us, change becomes one of the most arduous and most heroic things we can ever achieve. It’s not simple or clean or easy. It’s the maddening equivalent of sorting through a pile of tightly tangled wires as we’re forced to examine the behaviors we’re least proud of and what’s below the surface driving them for us, and below that, and below that. It requires that we crack open our whole hearts and lean into discomfort over and over again until we’ve come out the other side, lighter and in some sense reborn.
What makes overcoming our most deep-seated, most internal challenges so difficult is that each of us has got a little army living inside us that’s fueled on our fears and self-doubt.
This fear-driven part of us tells us to resist that which is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. It coaxes us to slide back and into our old unhealthy selves. It reminds us how soothing our comfort zones can truly be and gently gives us permission to ignore when something about us is unhealthy or spinning its wheels. It’s trying badly to keep us the way we’ve always been.
In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle describes this experience with his idea of the “pain-body,” the part of us that lives in the past and future – psychological time – instead of the now. He suggests that the strongest reason we resist change is that a part of us is actually addicted to it. Because we’ve lived alongside our pain for so long, it’s become a crucial part of our identity. It’s certainly not healthy and we may even know it, but to kill off that part of ourselves heaves up an unconscious fear of losing ourselves altogether if we are to let go of it.
But what our “pain-body” tries to make us forget is that anything that’s not evolving can surely only be moving towards death and decay – that to stay in your comfort zone every day is, in some way, to choose to die.
It tries to make us forget that denial of our fears and shortcomings fills us with shame and splits our capacity for love and joy.
It tries to make us forget that life can be trusted on life’s terms, that if we were to look at every present now – the exact now, the one that’s just come and gone and come and gone – we’d see that everything is very, very okay.
And so this is where courage and perseverance utterly have to come in when we’re faced with our biggest challenges, with our four or five movie moments across our long lives.
As you move towards your healthier self, the part of you that clings to the need for identity will try its hardest to pull you back to the you you’ve been for a long, long time, and it’ll be up to you to do the work of choosing, to decide whether you’re ready to put your foot down.
Whether you’re ready to face down that obstacle that’s so tightly entwined with the very fibers of your being. To reroute yourself towards the new.
And if we can hold on and steer towards that new even as our fears and our pain-bodies get louder and louder, if we can just push past what they have to say, we might find ourselves in an unfamiliar space – one that’s lighter, freer and doesn’t need to be tamed or controlled, because it’s the space where pain and fear no longer govern our every move.
It’s the big internal shift that changes how we view ourselves and ultimately everything else.
It’s one of our four or five big movie moments – those electric, enchanting breaks in time in which we are truly and entirely and unequivocally heroic.