Spiritual Movies: Groundhog Day

By The Spiritual Explorer

I have long thought Groundhog Day was one of the most spiritual movies I have ever seen. In fact, I must admit that I saw it at least 25 times when it first emerged in 1993. I was looking to extract that piece of wisdom that was both beckoning and confounding to me. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant, disenchanted and disgruntled with life Pittsburgh TV weatherman. One day, he is assigned to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The next morning he wakes up to find himself in a time loop, living the same day over again.

Elements of a Repetitive Act

After indulging in hedonism and attempting suicide, Phil awakens to realize his real life is full of repetition and regret. It’s not just in Punxsutawney. He begins to see that his repetitive, destructive choices lock him into a lifestyle that only brings unhappiness and despair. He also begins to see his manipulations and attempts to seek shallow happiness only further deepen his despair and unhappiness. Realizing the futility of his choices, caught in a time loop, he sees no way out but to kill himself.

Each morning, he awakens to find himself in the same situation. What follows is a series of both humorous and sad attempts to escape this repetition. It behooves us to ask ourselves how we, too, find ourselves in a self-created Groundhog Day in our lives.

Phil awakens to his Groundhog Day

Phil is in a loop. At this point, we see the beginning of an awakening. Suddenly his behavior becomes painfully obvious and he begins to change his usual responses to situations and people around him. The beggar asking for change becomes real to him and Phil does everything he can to take care of him. He begins to invest himself into the life at Punxsutawney and develops relationships.

As a result, he becomes the hero to many of them for his willingness to become part of the community. Phil has begun to awaken. With the awakening, comes the surrender of difficult parts of his personality that actually brought him pain.

There are many examples of awakenings where people turned their lives around. They are usually provoked and encouraged by dreadful happenings in their lives. In the New Testament, St. Paul, who in his zeal to kill Christians, is awakened by the Divine voice of Christ. Contemporarily we have heard of the dramatic awakenings of Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. Both Katie and Tolle’s awakenings were preceded by depressive and despairing states.

The Groundhog Day syndrome … in other stories

In the Secret Life of Ivan Osokin, a fascinating little book by P.D. Ousspensky, Ivan Osokin was a young man in the grip of what Hindus might call samskaras, deep-rooted behaviors that follow us lifetime after lifetime. After a series of poor choices and bad luck, Mr. Osokin finds himself in front of the house of a magician who promises to send him back to the beginning of his life so that he can make different choices. Returning to his past, however, those same samskaras accompany him and he returns to the present, unchanged and still miserable.

The manner of Phil’s many attempts at suicides was particularly fascinating to me. He had reached his nadir and could not manipulate or figure a way out. Many of us come to that same conclusion, but unfortunately cannot reach beyond that place. Some even succeed in ending their lives. Phil, however, because of his immersion in the time loop, could not even do that. Meeting futility at his own “no exit,” he luckily recreated and re-formed his self and cast aside the cynical and destructive part of his personality.

Is it possible for us to recognize this and change?

Who is blessed to be able to do that? Some people never see that they are the co-creators of their own unhappiness and blame others or themselves for their unfortunate circumstances. I think that is why when we hear of people’s horrific past and see the remarkable strides they have made, we call them heroes.

And heroes they are. Joseph Campbell spoke about the Hero’s Journey, the journey that all of us are called to take in this lifetime. The unfortunate thing is that many of us  have subscribed to an illusion of life by well meaning, but unconscious parents, who tell us to expect an illusion-filled life, where we are fed myths of happiness. As a result, life may produce someone who never learns how to cope with adversity and when it appears, becomes so victimized or disempowered he feels his life is over. The true hero realizes that only he or she can rescue themselves through awareness, desire to change and ultimate surrender. If we are lucky, we receive the gift of faith and spiritual empowerment that are the gifts of surrender.

Heroes sometime emerge after a lifetime with their hearts still intact and begin a life of service. Now they are truly a “hero”. May we all be blessed to lead such lives.

Teachings in the form of spiritual movies can sometimes be the easiest teachings to accept and learn from. I believe this to be true because it’s also entertaining. This combination allows you to take in teachings in small doses, acknowledging a little at time. I look forward to sharing other spiritual movies with you.

If you have a question about “spiritual movies,” or anything else, you can write me at Ask The Spiritual Explorer.

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