“Groundhog Day & The Power of Now”

power of groundhog

I love anything that Bill Murray is in. Stripes, Ghostbusters, Meatballs, Scrooged, etc. He is one of those rare comedic actors who can make me start smiling just with a facial expression.
Last night “Groundhog Day” was playing on Bravo. So, of course, I watched. I’m not sure why it is so much more compelling to watch movies when they are playing live on TV. I’ll often watch a film on TV – with commercials – even when I own the DVD somewhere in my collection. I think it has something to do with the collective viewing experience. Even though we are in different physical locations, there is a crowd of people all watching at the same time. It is like a communal theatre experience – without the sticky floor.
In any case, I watched Groundhog Day last night along with 1000’s of strangers. The neat thing about that movie is that you can miss the beginning and not get too lost – since the movie consists of the same day happening over and over again.
If you have not seen it, Netflix it, immediately. The premise is that a grumpy weatherman named Phil finds himself living the same day over and over again. Every morning he wakes up at 6am on Groundhog Day. No matter what happens during the day, when he goes to sleep, he wakes up at 6am and it is the beginning of Groundhog Day. Again.
It’s an awesome premise that gives a stage for Murray’s antics. But it is also a perfect scenario to illustrate some deep spiritual ideas. As I re-watched the film last night, I saw a beautiful new depth to it.

At the start of the movie, Murray’s character is unhappy, selfish, and inconsiderate.
Despite the fact that his worldview makes him miserable, he believes he knows best.
Phil is the Everyman of the modern world: Ego absorbed and suffering – but with no willingness to change. In essence being unhappy because he is too stubborn to accept that he may not have it all figured out. He would rather be right about how lame everything is than be happy.
The beginning of the movie paints the picture of this person: Miserable on the inside and miserable to be around. He is stuck in a lame small town and everything seems to be an obstacle – even though he has no clear destination.
Things get interesting when he wakes up the next morning, and it is Groundhog Day, once again. He goes through the day, everyone and everything says and acts exactly as the day before. Much Bill Murray silliness ensues.
Once the shock dies down, Murray’s character starts to think of ways he can take advantage of the situation. Since he knows he will wake up tomorrow in the same place/day, he starts to learn about people so that he can manipulate them. He learns where a pretty girl goes to high school so that he can manufacture a disarming ice breaker (and eventually sleep with her.)
This is the Ego steering it’s way through the world. He acts selfishly to get what he wants – often at the expense of others. This is the “dog-eat-dog” mentality that we fall into so often. We step on others to get what we want, never realizing that the rewards we gain rarely make us happy.
He symbolizes the stage of awareness of trying to change the world to fit our image of happiness. He imagines that he would be happy if he could get the girl, so he sets on changing the circumstances of the world to get what his Ego mind wants. Of course, since he gets an infinite number of do-overs, he is pretty successful.
The movie shows him altering his seduction script with each failed attempt. At one point she yells at him and rather than respond to her, he makes a mental note to himself, “No fudge and no whit e chocolate. Got it.”
He goes through round after round of this day, each time getting closer to crafting it perfectly. Or at least perfectly crafted according to his Plan.
And yet, he never reaches the happy scenario he strives for.
Just like in real life, the Ego often has no idea what will actually make us happy – even if we think we do. The problem is that the Ego, by it’s nature, acts from a selfish place. Even if it gets what it wants, it is operating from a place lacking love and peace. It is like the businessman who does what it takes to get the promotion, get the house and car, does everything according to plan and then realizes, “My God, what have I done?” I have achieved my image of Happiness – and yet I am not happy!
Phil falls deep into the Victim role.
He feels powerless and becomes depressed. He is trapped on the wheel of suffering.
For the Ego mind, and all it’s plans, the fact that tomorrow never comes is the worst possible nightmare. Nothing matters and nothing will change.
Finally, he decides to kill himself. Repeatedly.
He crashes his car, electrocutes himself, and jumps off a building. Each time he wakes up at 6am on Groundhog Day.
This is the symbolic killing off of his ego. Stripping away all his desires.
Until finally he says, “I’ve killed myself so many times, I don’t even exist any more.”
He says this like it is a bad thing, but it is only from this place of non-existent ego that his transformation takes place.
In essence, he surrenders.
He no longer tries to manipulate things for his own good. Instead he begins to speak honestly from the heart without an agenda.
He introduces several hobbies to his life: Taking piano lessons and learning ice sculpting. These create entertaining plot points, but they symbolize the daily practice and discipline of a spiritual path.
We also see him demonstrate a non-attachment to material goods. He has learned all-too-vividly that “you can’t take it with you.” We see him be incredibly generous at every opportunity.
Without any hope for a future, his life/day becomes about what is the best way he can contribute in this moment.
In fact, generosity and giving become his sole purpose. He makes the daily practice about helping people. Since he knows everything that happens on this day perfectly, he walks around town and is available to help when each obstacle (that he knows is coming) arises. He changes a tire, applies the Heimlich maneuver, and catches a kid who falls from a tree. This becomes his daily practice.
His demeanor finally becomes calm as he surrenders to this infinite Now. Of course, for the character – the Now that Eckard Tolle talks about has become quite literal.
Without the legacy of his past story, he is free to be anyone.
Without the expectations of the future, he is free to do anything.
After much trial and error, he finally embraces a “Love more, fear less. Float more, steer less” mentality.
He surrenders to the Now. He follows Love. He is free of Fear.
From this place, Joy and Love flow effortlessly into his life.
His evolution is complete and the “curse” is finally lifted when he says, “Whatever happens tomorrow, I am happy Now.”
Within the confines of a single day, in a small town, we witness a life-long spiritual path play out. From Selfishness, to Dispair, to loss of Ego. We witness the wheel of suffering and see the importance of a daily practice, selflessness, and service. Finally, he Surrenders fully to the Now and finds Joy.
From this place, it makes no difference how many more weeks of winter the groundhog predicts. Every Now moment is perfect.
It makes me wonder how many comedies of my youth can be appreciated from a spiritual level? Maybe we should try some Pauley Shore movies next??? Maybe not.
Feb 23, 2010

One thought on ““Groundhog Day & The Power of Now””

  1. This is completely hilarious in its ‘truthiness’ (sorry, Stephen.)

    Have you seen Zombieland? Without a doubt Murray’s best role.

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