Transforming the Trap…a la Groundhog Day

+ Groundhog Blog Feb 16 36145892_sI have loved the movie Groundhog Day since it came out in 1993. This movie has a following – it’s still played in marathon showings yearly on February 2nd – and I can see its appeal. Bill Murray plays the lead role, and Murray’s dry, sardonic wit gives the movie the perfect combination of sharp-edged humor and mocking, coupled with a gentler, sweeter tone.

It’s the story of Phil, an ego-driven weather reporter who feels he’s really too good to be doing the assignment he’s been given: covering the small-town Groundhog Day ceremonies in Punxsutawney, PA. Phil lets his superior, sarcastic attitude and impatience show at every opportunity. He can’t wait to get this event over with, so he can get out of town and back to the big city.

But something mysterious happens when a blizzard hits and forces Phil and the crew to spend the night in Punxsutawney. When Phil wakes up the next day, it’s Groundhog Day all over again – with everything happening exactly as it had the day before. This happens again and again and again for more days than we (or Phil) can keep track of.

Phil’s trapped in a time warp and doesn’t know how to get out. He’s confused, vexed, and furious. He wrestles with this time-prison he’s in, trying to find a way out. The same events, same conversations, and same reactions are driving him around the bend.

Poor Phil, and no wonder this movie resonates with so many of us. Most of us have had phases in our lives when we felt like, no matter what we did, no matter how hard we tried, we were repeating the same pattern and getting the same results over and over again, ad nauseam, until we were ready to scream. Some of us have screamed!

A new twist comes when Phil figures out that no matter what he does each day, he’ll wake up the next day to the clean slate he started with the day before. Partly bored, partly testing the limits, he starts acting out a lot of bad-boy behaviors. He eventually has a truly dark moment and drives his truck over a precipice…only to wake up the next morning as if nothing had happened.

Things begin to shift for Phil when he starts to work with the time warp, rather than fighting against it. Realizing he has time on his hands, he takes piano lessons. He begins to do good works such as feeding a homeless man to help him come back to good health. We eventually see that he’s made a lot of friends – by the close of the movie, nearly everyone in Punxsutawney recognizes and likes the evolved person he’s become.

For, although he’s still trying to find his way out of his situation, Phil has transformed from a nasty, patronizing man into a genuinely likeable, winning, humble member of the community. Eventually, it’s this change in character that helps Phil transcend the time warp and move on – and even find love. By cutting the crap of his former persona, Phil finds his genuine, real Self – a Self that is not ego-based but Essence-based.

From this place, Phil struggles less. Instead of trying and trying again, he uses his energy to find what is salvageable – and even good – about his situation.

Right Recognition + Right Effort = change. Recognizing our situation doesn’t necessarily mean accepting it (in the sense of consent or compliance). Right Recognition means acknowledging, identifying, perceiving. These neutral qualities help us detach from overly dramatic feelings that keep us in a tangle of emotions, spinning our wheels as we try to get out of a pattern or situation we want to change.

So, we recognize, we seek discernment and guidance about Right Effort – the actions that will help us in the moment and in the long run – and we go on. As Phil shows us, we won’t be stuck in a time warp forever. We can change our attitude, one thought at a time. We can change our situation, step by step. We can create a new community, friend by friend.

Phil beat his head against the wall for many Groundhog Days until he changed his approach. By doing things differently, he came to terms with his situation and laid the groundwork for the change he wanted to see.

We can do the same – even if it isn’t Groundhog Day!

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