Groundhog Day. What the heck.
A few years ago, my friend Virginia told me that Groundhog Day is her favorite film. When she discovered I’d never seen the movie, she got excited. Virginia announced that Groundhog Day is the most accurate depiction of what we’re doing here in life, and more specifically, what we’re doing as spiritual seekers. She told me to go home and watch the movie immediately.
Two years went by without watching.
Then I went to visit Virginia on the island of Kauai, where I was a captive audience for all kinds of high level spiritual learning, including finally watching Groundhog Day.
Goodness gracious friends, Virginia was correct.
Once Neffie and I were at Blue Cliff Monastery and a little nun asked if we wanted to have popcorn and a movie with her. Neff asked, “What movie are we watching?” And with glee the nun exclaimed, “YOU are the movie!”
If you’re not familiar with Groundhog Day, here’s the film’s synopsis:
Phil (Bill Murray), a weatherman, is out to cover the annual emergence of the groundhog from its hole. He gets caught in a blizzard that he didn’t predict and finds himself trapped in a time warp. He is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right.
The rest of this post is comprised entirely of spoilers. And exclamations! I thought that perhaps Virginia was being hyperbolic when I first heard her talk about Groundhog Day. But now I’m on the other side and I can’t stop thinking about the movie and how it’s a perfect allegory for life on a spiritual path.
On a day that keeps repeating, Phil goes through all of these possible reactions that I can 100% relate to:
Confusion – Wait, what is happening?
Distress – Why am I here in this awful life? Where is the grown-up who can tell me what’s going on?
Curiosity – Okay, okay, now that I sort of understand the terms, what can I get away with?
Glee – Getting drunk without consequences, eating every confection without consequences, and then:
Naughtiness – Stealing money, seducing unsuspecting women.
Despair – The woman he might actually like, Rita (Andie McDowell), who is not into his self-centered nonsense, turns him down. And then, because he can’t get the girl on a superficial level, Phil tries to kill himself over and over again, unsuccessfully. He doesn’t know how to connect with her on a deep level. It’s excruciating! Phil has to clean up his behavior, learn more, and he has to find satisfaction in his Groundhog Day life without using Rita.
Surrender – This is how things are right now. As long as we’re here, we might as well start to get educated, maybe help someone else, and try to enjoy this funny life we’re living inside of.
Discipline – Practice. Relentless. One little right action building on one other little right action towards a beautiful and fulfilling life. Like Phil’s piano lessons. The piano lessons, friends!
Devotion – Becoming others-focussed, noticing people’s problems and helping them through their challenges without any expectation that there will be a return on this investment, because he’s just going to have the opportunity to do it all again tomorrow without anyone remembering who he is or what he contributed yesterday.
True Contentment and Love – Phil starts to love these once anonymous people who he serves everyday. He starts to have self esteem because he performs estimable acts all day long. He experiences Rita’s attraction to him as she observes how much everyone else seems to love him in this town and how humble he is about their attention. Phil doesn’t try to get anything fresh from Rita, and he has acceptance around the impermanence of it all, which turns out to be the key to breaking the cycle of the repeating day.
You know, I think the part of Groundhog Day that I relate to so much is that all through the film, Phil is trying to get with the leading lady, Rita. He tries all kinds of tricks to get her into bed. In the midst of that, she tells him her relationship ideal. When he doesn’t get his way, he feels suicidal and tries to off himself. Then when he realizes that there’s no ticket out of this loop, he decides to start learning and finds ways to grow towards the relationship ideal that Rita told him about. Phil takes action.
At first he thinks he’s doing all this to get the girl.
Then he realizes that all of this personal development is the goal in itself, that it feels satisfying to be a contributing community member, that it feels good to not hate himself. Rita is off the hook to be his savior. It’s great that she wants to be with Phil now, and also, Phil has a beautiful life and he doesn’t need to try and use a woman to distract himself from the potential misery of consciousness. He is present to his consciousness and contributing to his community and enjoying the ride. That’s enough for Phil. On the final Groundhog Day before the time warp ends, Phil goes out into the world and helps everyone. So at the party that night, the whole town is talking him up to Rita. As it turns out, being a kind person who the community genuinely loves is a real turn-on for a gal like her.
I think actual life is like Groundhog Day. Just like Virginia said.
Everyday is a day to learn, grow towards an ideal, help every single person possible, lean into humility, take care of business all day leaving Rita alone, and then partying with the people at night reveling in the satisfaction of a day well lived in service, presence, and action. And in the end, that’s what flips the switch. Rita begs to stay the night with Phil (no sexy time, just talking and sleeping) and in the morning it’s finally the next day, which it always has been, except it hasn’t been, and my brain is still reeling about these implications for our little non-movie but movie lives!
Yeah, I feel miserable when, like Phil, I’m mired in confusion and anger about why I’m here in this life. Things suck when I’m in total self centeredness, greed, gluttony, and lust. Living like that, as Phil does in the first portion of the film, and as I can so easily do in the movie of my life, the girl I want to be with doesn’t want to be with me, the low-budget dramas I can conjure up do nothing for my soul, and of course I want a ticket off the planet too.
Just the same, when I live the way Phil starts to live after his attempts to kill himself are unsuccessful — as my despair felt before finding myself on a spiritual path — days when I learn something new, practice useful and pleasurable skills, grow towards an ideal of how I’d like to be in a romance partnership, do the work I’ve been hired to do first thing in the morning impeccably well and over deliver to my clients, and then spend the rest of the day seeking to help others in every single way I can, without expectation of return, show up as a community member in the evening at the metaphorical party . . . well then I’m feeling pretty good.
And if, after days and days and days of making mistakes and learning and doing my best the next time, my Rita wants to dance and talk and spend the night with me, well, then the next chapter of learning gets to begin at a new level of consciousness, appreciation, and devotion to love, service, and life.
I’m glad we get to try again each day.
Watch Groundhog Day now, so you can join me in flipping out on the magic and insight of this movie.