Omphaloskepsis. A type of meditation where one stares at one's navel. Navel-gazing has come to mean anyone being extremely introspective or existential.
When contemplating his or her navel, a character will sit quietly and contemplate the purpose of Life, the Universe, and Everything. In visual media, this can be accompanied by surreal visuals (sometimes an excuse to recycle material from previous episodes). In written media, this can involve long, usually internal monologues.
Depending on the show, this can be thematically appropriate or a pause in the action. When used as padding, these scenes are usually very annoying, because so little thought is put into them — the poor viewers have to sit through five minutes of "Who am I? Who is me? I is me, but you is not me. The universe is not real to me, unless it is real to you, but who is you? Who is..." and so on against a Clip Show background. But in rare moments, it can be really creepy.
When a character does a voice-over of the same nature during the series, it's called a Fauxlosophic Narration.
When the moment becomes significant as an energizing, self-motivating speech, it is a "World of Cardboard" Speech. When a character frequently indulges in navel contemplating, said character is The Philosopher.
Compare with Character Filibuster. And compare with Author Filibuster, where the character is giving answers instead of questions.
Not to be confused with Contemplating Our Navy. If the viewers get to contemplate a character's navel, it's Bare Your Midriff.
And later in the series, Yusuke has one of these (verging on a full-fledged Heroic BSOD) halfway through his final fight with Yomi, as he blanks out in the middle of a fight upon realizing that he's been fighting for so long that it's lost all meaning.
The last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, consist entirely of this, along with a great deal of Mind Screw. It's also done on a few other occasions: namely, by Rei during her synch test with Unit 01, Shinji while trapped inside an Angel, and Shinji again during the weeks he spent merged with Unit 01.
Paranoia Agent shows more restraint and only does this for a few seconds in the next episode previews (which usually aren't important anyway). It shows why this trope rarely works: the characters are creepy precisely because they don't babble their inner thoughts to the audience.
Duels in Yu-Gi-Oh! and GX have a tendency to drift into this, as emotional issues from traumatic childhoods to tragic romances rise to the surface for whoever's the bad guy, turning duels more into intense mental therapy sessions. The GXdub frequently lampshades this: "Is he gonna duel or stand there and ponder his purpose in life?"
Koizumi Itsuki is an Olympic-level navel-gazer, who often finishes off his bouts of philosophy with a 'just kidding'.
When he could talk, Shamisen, who delivered such a successful spiel on the nature of consciousness that he managed to distract the characters from the fact that he was a talking cat.
Parodied in Prince of Tennis: Shinji Ibu from Fudomine is infamous for his long, odd mumbling rounds. So much that the voice messages in his single CD's are all composed of random mumbling about practically anything.
The second season of The Big O made the viewers contemplate their navels a lot — sometimes this and the token mecha fight would be the whole episode. Nietzsche Wannabe Schwartzwald ranting, brief scenes of every character looking puzzled at what was going on, Roger sitting paralyzed at the controls of his mecha while worrying about his destiny — and several characters worrying that they only exist to play a limited role. Unusually, these scenes were never excuses for recycled footage, and were always lavishly animated (Schwartzwald ranted over a background of his mecha running amok through the wilderness).
Mnemosyne did this out of nowhere in its last episode. It was very strange and misplaced, though strange and misplaced seems to be the theme of the series.
Bounen No Xamdou lampshades this when the main character starts to slide into a monologue, and another character tells him this isn't the time to be navel-gazing.
Cowboy Bebop features this in episode 23, Brain Scratch, where the climax of the episode is villain Londes' lengthy speech on the philisophical nature of television.
.hack//Sign characters do this a lot, spending a great deal of time discussing all manner of deep subjects. It comes as a relief to see Sora, the only character who regularly acts like he's actually playing a game...
Gundam series usually feature several battles where opposing mobile suit pilots debate about the nature of truth, honor, war, peace and just about every philosophy topic in existence while blasting each other with laser cannons and giant lightsabers. And when they're not fighting what do they do? They continue debating. All the time, over and over, IT NEVER STOPS. To the point that viewers will wonder if screaming at each other about the nature of reality is really the unseen power source of their gundams...
Treize Khushrenada of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is the grand champion of this trope, rambling about the meaning of combat and his life purpose on and off the battlefield (he even gets an entire Recap Episode in which to contemplate endlessly). This frustrates his subordinate/lover(?), Lady Une, who just wants him to conquer the universe already.
Nearly everyone in Wing does this ALOT. Whether it be the Gundam pilots themselves, everyday run-of-the-mill soldiers, rebels, or just politics. Zechs Marquise tends to do it the most, after Treize.
Code Geass does something similar in the epic battle in the finale.
Negi of Mahou Sensei Negima! does this on occasion, primarily during the Mahora festival arc, where he contemplates whether or not maintaining The Masquerade is the right thing to do. It's subverted as he never really finds an answer, and decides to maintain it simply because the Big Bad can't prove that breaking the Masquerade is worth screwing over some of the mages.
It's also lampshaded like crazy as several characters tell Negi to knock off the contemplation because he's only ten years old and should spend his time having fun and being a kid, not debating the moral implications of his actions.
Ghost in the Shell does this frequently. Admittedly in the movie the English translation made it sound a lot more like an Author Filibuster than the Japanese original seemed to intend - the Major was definitely not sure of herself in the Japanese voicing, yet seemed to be talking directly to the viewer in the English one.
Similarly, Batou goes on a lot of philosophical ramblings in the novel After the long Goodbye, which is a sequel (or prequel?) to Innocence. He too isn't really sure about anything, questions if he himself has a soul or not and why Gabriel has left him, often thinking of reasons more emotional than rational and reflects on the beliefs of other characters he meets.
ARIA as some elements of this. Mostly a rather fluffy series (in a good way), Akari's mindfulness at times makes it plunge deep into nostalgia and questions about the purpose of life, clearly influenced by the Japanese philosophy of mono no aware. This is most prevalent in the AriettaOVA, which coincidentally contains even more Scenery Porn than the TV series.
In Rurouni Kenshin, the titular character often talked his foes into submission, and at one point, it was the only way he could win against Sojiro Seta.
Rakka in Haibane Renmei does a lot of philosophizing about things, such as the nature of the Haibane and whether she deserves to be happy or not.
Fullmetal Alchemist has Hohenheim contemplating the nature of humanity in Episode 27 of the Brotherhood anime with the standard Clip Show format.
Also used with premeditated intention and to great effect as the Elrics contemplate "All is one, one is all" (a concept used not infrequently afterwards) during their stint of training/dying/whatever they were doing.
Naruto: Kabuto is obviously channelling Dr. Mohinder Suresh when he bombards Naruto with questions such as "Who are we? What is our purpose?" prior to revealing he has fused himself with the remains of Orochimaru to give himself an identity. Orochimaru himself sometimes slips into this when describing why he's seeking immortality.
Hellsing has Alucard occasionally prone to stopping to contemplate his own history and the nature and motivations of those around him. The Major also tends to monologue about his enemies and the nature of war. Other characters get in on this at times.
In fact, the key question would seem to be "What is/makes a monster?" Given the Black and Gray Morality that Hellsing operates on, it's rather appropriate.
Ergo Proxy has the Cogito virus that cause self-awareness in robots and makes them experience human emotions.
And that voice would make anything sound dramatic. Especially when you find out who is speaking.
Unlike Higurashi, xxxHolic does show preview clips, but a similarly coy voiceover by Yuuko plays over them.
The characters in Vagabond do this quite frequently; a lot of Musashi's character development happens through inner monologues where he questions just what it means (and how much it means, in the end) to be strong.
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac manages to make it creepy as all Hell, usually by having it end with a psychotic non-sequiter or be written in blood or something.
In the RoboCop Versus The Terminator graphic novel, the Terminators do this, since RoboCop is essentially a divine being to them (as in this continuity, he was an integral part of SkyNet's creation). It gets really weird when they start discussing the fact that he doesn't want to help them.
The main character of In The Service can be somewhat philosophical about the nature of soldiering to his companion, Combat Cyborg Tre, because of her habit of taking on extra and in his eyes unreasonable guilt.
The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were both crammed with navel-contemplation. The original wasn't free of it either, although it was far more pronounced in the Two-Part Trilogy.
I ♥ Huckabees was filled with this, which makes sense as the main action of the movie involves characters going through an existential crisis or ten. Lampshaded by one character not yet willing to admit he's also going through one:
Dawn Campbell: You can't deal with my infinite nature, can you?
Brad Stand: Of course I can... what does that even mean?
The Thin Red Line is possibly the epitome of this trope. Nearly every soldier has a ridiculous voice-over monologue, and many times there are more than one of them onscreen, making it impossible to tell who's actually saying it. After watching, one reviewer commented that it sounded like a series of high school papers asking "Why is there War?" and noting that he felt compelled to yell letter grades at the screen. And then you find out that the studio had to chop the film down from six hours....
In Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale states that he was "compemplating his navel" in the janitor's closet of a hospital where he was posing as a doctor. (He was actually reading a medical dictionary to look up terms he did not understand.)
James Joyce's Ulysses, long considered a ponderous, difficult, impossible tome, humorously plays with this trope & term quite often: from Buck Mulligan loudly proclaiming that their home is 'the omphalos', to Dedalus literally contemplating the existence of Adam's (Biblical-Adam) navel, to a chapter that ends with Bloom going to the bath house, and literally gazing into his own bellybutton.
Robert Asprin's later Myth Adventures books started to do this more and more.
Orson Scott Card likes to do this in his books. A scene from one of the Shadow books involves Ender's mom and Graff talking about whether it's intentions or actions that determine one's supernatural fate, for example. The most plot-vital revelations in Xenocide are strongly obfuscated behind long, confusing Fauxlosophic Narrations.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy refers to the three phases of civilization as being characterized by the questions, "How can we eat?", "Why do we eat?", and "Where shall we have lunch?" (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is one possible answer to the last question. And that's not even getting into Bistromathics...)
also parodied in the scene with the whale and the bowl of petunias.
Somewhat happens in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 during the speeches of Montag's boss Beatty. Beatty actually does mention people cleaning their navels in one speech.
Subverted, in that Beatty is deliberately trying to fuck with Montag's mind.
The Illuminatus! Trilogy is made of this, with long dialogues about how the human mind thinks, the significance of religion, why anarchy and chaos are better than order and authoritarianism, and the respective positions of the Illuminati, the Justified Ancients of Mummu, the Legion of Dynamic Discord, and Erisian Liberation Front on what people should be doing. It is remarkably unpretentious and often even fun to read, though.
Notably, chaos eventually isn't decided to be better than order, after all, even though that appears to be the initial premise; the idea is that there simply has been an overflow of order recently, and some extra chaos is needed to balance things out.
In the Principia Discordia, from which many of the ideas of Illuminatus! are drawn, the opposition is not between order and Chaos, but between order and disorder, and Chaos is the principle into which both transcend.
Stacy in Scott Smith's The Ruins does something like this towards the end of the novel.
Happens on occasion in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, especially the later ones in the series.
Robert E. Howard's Kull does this a lot. Especially in The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune, where Kull gazes into a mirror and wonders if perhaps the mirror image is the real man and he is but a mirror image himself... and more from that drawer.
In Sheri S. Tepper's Grass the hyper-intelligent Foxen are being killed off by the less intelligent, but more ambitious, Hippae; because they have degenerated into passive navel-gazers.
Probably makes up the majority of the text in All Saint's Day. And it is a rather informed variety, as the protagonists friends, with the possible exception of his love interest who comes in half-way, have a in depth knowledge of the works of western philosophers, at least the German ones, as well as their original, more artistically bent, thoughts and critiques.
Confronted by the Gray Council after the Battle of the Line Sinclair fires both Armor Piercing Questions at his captors: "Who are you?" "What do you want?" and adds a very apropos one of his own "Why are you doing this?" All of which must have been darned disturbing coming from their Messiah.
The short-lived spinoff Crusade added its own third question — "Whom do you serve and who do you trust?" — to the "Who are you?"/"What do you want?" sequence, and used all three questions in its opening credits. Crusade was cancelled before we ever got an answer.
Desperate Housewives: Every episode opens and closes with Mary Alice's voice-from-beyond-the-grave yattering off some inane blablablabla about life, happiness and whatnot.
Subverted once and only once, when Edie dies at the beginning of an episode, and does the opening narration (again from beyond the grave, though) instead of Mary-Alice - but this time the entire monologue is a rant on how she was happy to die at the center of everyone's attention, just the way she had lived.
There is also an occasion where Rex narrates, and he amps this trope up.
Literal example; in one episode of Get Smart where Max infiltrated a group of both male and female hippies. The guru told all the hippies there to contemplate the navel. The Guru had to tell Max "Your OWN Navel"
Done sometimes in Grey's Anatomy, with Mer doing the narrating. It's usually plot-relevant and has something to do with doctors, medicine in general, and the title of the episode, though.
Hell's Kitchen, of all things, turns into this whenever Marco Pierre White opens his mouth.
Tubbs on Miami Vice was especially prone to this kind of behavior; most anything involving the Big Bad from season 1 or his daughter would immediately launch the audience into a five minute long flashback Big "NO!"-filled Slow-Mo montage.
The X-Files occasionally suffered from somewhat portentous and long-winded voice-over monologues of this nature. Made worse that usually it was a teaser for Myth Arc episodes.
In the Doctor Who Serial "Planet of the Spiders", there is a rather literal example. Sarah Jane is brought in to investigate some strange goings on at a mediation retreat of some sort. Mike Yates tries to explain the meditation to her but she doesn't seem to really get it.
Mike: They're just meditating. Watching.
Sarah Jane: So what are they watching?
Mike:They're mentally watching their tummies. Go up and down as they breathe.
Sarah Jane: Like contemplating their bellybuttons?
Mike: You could put it like that.
Sarah Jane: Well, I hope you all know what your on about.
Mike: Probably seems a bit daft. It's an exercise in awareness really.
In the Seinfeld episode "The Visa", when George ends up double dating with Jerry and Elaine, he asks Jerry not to be funnier than him so that his date won't leave. His date comes back to the table and says that it's her aunt's birthday. Jerry then launches into a depressing spiel about birthdays.
Jerry: Well, birthdays are merely symbolic of how another year has gone by and how little we've grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each flicker of the candles on the cake, we know it's not to be, that for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end. Inevitably, irrevocably; happy birthday? No such thing.
Bloom County's popular staple in the comic was the characters sitting in a dandelion field while analyzing whether THIS latest popculture event will inspire the end of the world, or that will. Most especially with Binkley, who was known for having panic attacks on the idea of reincarnating as a toaster.
Warhammer 40,000's Orks are a subversion of this - one of the quotes in their codex postulates that they've become so successful because of the fact that they don't bother with the heavy philosophical questions that plague other races and just stick to shooting or smashing things in the face.
Hummiez don't underztand orky navel watching. We boyz know that Gork and Mork are the invincible and the indeztructible, but we'z like to discuss regularly which is which. (Fightning noise)
Munchkin has the card "Contemplate Your Navel: Go Up a Level."
At the very end of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, the characters find out that their entire universe is a video game. The man who created the video game destroys it; however, the heroes choose their last moments to do some navel contemplating and their perceived universe is forced to spontaneously generate.
Metal Gear does this from time to time, usually at the worst possible moments. Towards the end of Metal Gear Solid, the Big Bad actually tied the hero up and spent a good 15 minutes lecturing him on the troubling implications of genetic engineering while nuclear bombers made their approach.
And let's not forget the excruciatingly long codec conversation with the Patriot AI in the sequel, where Solidus patiently waits not 10 feet away until it's over to try and kill you.
Metal Gear Solid 4 loves this. While presumably during an ongoing battle, Snake finds time to listen to repeated philosophical discussion of the war economy and nanomachines that one person could do in a two minute summation.
Big Boss proves he really was a Patriot at the end of the game, by blathering on for almost as long as the AI's did. Bonus points for dying and hanging on long enough to finish his speech.
Nearly everyone in Deus Ex, ranging from terrorists, to bar patrons, to cabals of businessmen secretly running the world have their own complex theories to discuss about life.
Interactive Media game Vortex: Quantum Gate II is about 30% navel gazing, but it's pretty realistic since you have just found out your mission wasn't to kill giant bugs but friendly little fae folk. And then it makes sense again after the second revelation that Earth has only five years left and the shadowy mining company you work for (which is utterly huge, on the level of Eurocorp in Syndicate Wars) has been covering it up by 'disappearing' whistleblowers left and right in a vain attempt to hide the truth from the public until they can take over this new world and spring a manufactured heroic revelation onto the public. Drew's faced with the choice of saving his whole race or exchanging a sizable portion to save the newly encountered race. (Note that it's not really spoilery as any attempt to find information on this obscure game has people trying to sell used copies by blabbing the whole plotline anyway. Even Amazon gives away the revelations. Yeesh.) It's a stupendous effort, Myst with simpler puzzles but a heavily political/philosophical plotline.
Oracle of Tao: Nearly 1/3 of the plot is devoted to existential issues. Justified (sort of) in that the hero is trying to become an oracle and in the process learns all manner of things.
Used literally in Star Control 2. The player can talk the Thraddash into contemplating their navels, but the player learns that the Thraddash require three mirrors to properly view their navels.
In a nastier example, the Jedi Order (and Jedi Council in particular) were doing a lot of this; contemplating a possible external threat rather than deal with the Mandalorians literally outside their gates. Their inaction ultimately led to a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy when Revan said, "Screw this" and went out to fight, getting Drunk on the Dark Side in the process.
Interestingly, their suspicions are revealed to be correct in Star Wars: The Old Republic and its associated media, which shows that there indeed was a threat manipulating the Mandalorians. Whether their course of action was correct is still up for debate.
Shadow the Hedgehog has had this in his own spinoff title to the point where it has become exaggerated by the fanbase.
Used literally in Kingdom of Loathing - one accessory is entitled the Navel Ring Of Navel Gazing, and confers incredible contemplative powers.
The Final Fantasy series has had a history of existential angst ever since Final Fantasy VI, where the main heroine Terra finds out she's a Half-Human Hybrid and deals with the weight of the knowledge. Every game in the main franchise since then has dealt with identity issues and such to some extent.
Used unintentionally hilariously in Final Fantasy VIII when Squall monologues about how he doesn't want people to talk about him after he dies and then shouts "I won't have it! I won't have anyone talk about me in the past tense!" which makes sense... until you realize that the entire monologue just took place in his head.
Linear RPG: "Kliche considers the fact that destiny and fate are really the same thing, but perhaps the old man was referring to a deeper truth in the causality of the universe and the phenomena that make up his life..."
Announcer: This marks the end of an epic battle. The winner emerges with the pride and honor of a hard won victory, but also with a nagging sense of uncertainty. The loser walks away with a heart heavy with shame and anger, ready to make a new start and fight again another day. Both warriors know that this isn't truly the end. Neither one's potential has been truly reached, and there is much hard training ahead. They'll never forget the days of exchanging blows at a fevered pitch. They'll never forget the days of lost hope, of self-loathing. Once they've caught their breath, the warriors will return to the ring. This is the burden of the true fighter. There is no other choice. Who knows where their next opponent lies? This story may be over, but the battle is just beginning!
Irenicus did a fair bit of it in the dream sequences in Baldur's Gate II, waxing on about how "life is power" and precisely why, in his opinion, your character should embrace their Bhaalspawn nature instead of fighting it. All of which was made ten times more creepy by David Warner's mostly-deadpan delivery.
A couple of times in Men In Hats, characters contemplating profound questions about the universe get hungry and turn their thoughts to sandwiches. It can apparently cause Aram to BSOD, too.
In Captain Gamer: OOC, Sakura questions the Captain's commitment to personal justice. It leads to an 88-panel discussion of identity that completely blows the top off a long-running theme in the entire first arc.
In The Order of the Stick, Belkar is under a Paladin's curse and hallucinating about the aristocrat that authorized it and is constantly being asked "What are you?" After several attempts at classifying himself, he finally responds with "I am... a... sexy... shoeless... god of war..."
This is basically the entire point of HERO once you get past the first part or so. You'll end up hard pressed to find a single sentence that isn't in some way philosophical once it gets going.
MegaTokyo. So, so much. To the point where Official Couple Piro and Kimiko have become a metaphor for how people relate to fictional characters and spend entire strips contemplating the nature of relationships.
Karkat in Homestuck engages in this during a three-year journey between universes, musing on the unfair and Do Well, But Not Perfect nature of a world where You Can't Fight Fate, and its implications for any meaning life might have, and morality therein. Its a natural thing to wonder about when passing through the dream-bubbles of a myriad of doomed-timeline versions of dead friends... and yourself.
Done well (and hypnotically) on a very regular basis in Broken Saints.
As he proceeds through the game, very much Bobby Jacks of Survival of the Fittest - with a lengthy speech on his morals and/or deconstructions of his own motives cropping up every two scenes or so. Given that by the point he started to seriously do this he had wasted no fewer than seven people, you might argue that it took a little too long for his conscience to catch up with him.
Associated Space has an entire coastal village on the University Planet of Clonmacnois dedicated to the contemplation of esoteric philosophy. Which leads the hero Fatebane to remark, "We're all failed philosophers, in one way or another."
SCP-058 is a bovine heart with legs and tentacles that attacks everything while spouting philosophical-sounding gibberish.
The phenomenon is parodied in Avatar: The Last Airbender with the episode "The Firebending Masters", when Zuko and Aang are exploring an ancient temple and, lacking any better ideas when they accidentally trigger a trap that imprisons them, Zuko suggests "contemplate our place in the universe?"
Another one from Avatar: The Last Airbender, the episode, "The Guru" is an entire episode of this, at least while Aang is on screen.
In the Justice League episode Fury, Hawkgirl says of one Amazonian that was supposed to have been meditating, "Looks like she got tired of contemplating her navel..."
In Transformers Energon, there were filler episodes every once in a while, where a couple of characters would sit around, and contemplate what happened since the last Recap Episode.
The Tick vs. the Protoclown: Tick gets knocked into orbit unconscious, and his mind (a six-winged vision of his head) tells him he can only get home by answering the question "Why am I here?" The Tick's brain is mostly desert. There's the pleasure center (a giant smiley face that will make him enter an endless coma of ecstasy), the brain's defense mechanisms (little Ticks armed with fish), and a giant Tick statue that will answer only one question ("How's it going?") The Tick eventually stumbles across the answer himself: "I'm here becausea big clown hit me!"
South Park episode "The Tooth Fairy Tats" has Kyle start to doubt his own existence after discovering the tooth fairy isn't real. He spends the rest of the episode reading various philosophy books and talking about the nature of reality, even when the conversation around him is something totally different. He finally has an out-of-body, one-with-the-universe experience, and comments that it was weird. It's never, ever spoken of again.
One episode of The Venture Bros. has Brock go through a bout of this, when he began to doubt his own bloodlust, so he goes to Dr. Orpheus who has him do a spiritual journey at a meeting with an indigenous Brazilian shaman.
The episode "Twenty Years to Midnight" played with this at its ending, although it's ultimately subverted.
The hesychasts of Orthodox Christianity were disparagingly called "omphalopsykhoi", or "those who have their souls in their navels". Hesychasm is a tradition of solitary prayer and ascetism which has some similarities with the meditation practises of Eastern religions.