Have you ever seen the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell? Of course you have; everyone has (probably more than once). It’s the one about a bitter, jaded weatherman who, for some unknown reason, is forced to keep repeating the same day over and over again. Considered to be a modern American classic, it’s on several lists of best films of all time. Almost immediately after its release in 1993, people began referring to anything tedious and repetitive as being “like Groundhog Day.” Why is this movie so beloved and more importantly, why am I blogging about it? It’s simple. While on the one hand it’s a charming fantasy about a terrible man learning to be a wonderful human being, Groundhog Day is also a perfect example of mindfulness in action. As a counselor at Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando, I often extol the virtues of mindfulness to my clients, and help them to practice it in their lives.
Wikipedia states that “Mindfulness plays a central role in the teaching of Buddhist meditation… [It] is the critical factor in the path to liberation and subsequent enlightenment. The study of mindfulness (as it applies to Psychology) operates on the idea that by intentionally recognizing the potential of each small moment in a day, one can pursue a richer life experience that includes more novelty and less stress.” It is important to note that mindfulness is characterized by a sense of curiosity, non-judgment and acceptance.
Groundhog Day is at its core a tale about good vs. evil. During production Bill Murray would even refer to his character as “good Phil” or “bad Phil” based on the scene he was filming. What I think is so universally appealing about this movie is that the good and bad that co-exist within all of us is personified in Phil. As individuals we are constantly striving to be our best, true selves in the face of such hope destroyers as unending responsibilities, a poor economy, chronic illness, divorce, death and mid-term elections (to name a few). Over time we find that it’s hard not to be negative and self-serving and just plain lost. On some level we are all Phil Connors.
In Groundhog Day we get the guilty pleasure of imagining what it would be like to do whatever we want without consequences which last more than a day. Predictably, Phil lies, cheats, steals, kills (a groundhog), and dies-many times. All of these antics are to no avail, as he wakes up every morning, right back where he started. Through the course of this film we get to see Phil go from faking his way through the day to making the day so full and rich that he forgets that he wants it to end. Our hero Phil discovers the magical and transformative power of mindfulness. Through much trial and error (mostly error), Phil learns to live in each moment. He lets go of yesterday and tomorrow and truly relishes the now. On his last Groundhog Day, Phil is the Phil we all dream of being. He is caring, funny, talented, intelligent, helpful, friendly, eloquent, generous, confident, life-saving, and loved. As Sarah Bernhardt once said, “It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” Phil has become a billionaire. He wins the girl and his freedom by following the mindful path to enlightenment that is paved with curiosity, non-judgment and acceptance of every moment.
Now, do I think that the writer/director of Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis, meant for his movie to be a missive on the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment? Probably not. I read somewhere that Ramis estimates that it took Phil Connors ten years to “break the spell” and finally see tomorrow. How long will it take each of us to learn to live in the moment, in non-judgment? To quote Anne Rice, “None of us really changes over time. We only become more fully what we are.” If that is so, how are we (in reality) to find the crucible that will form us into the person we were meant to be? How do we separate the good from the bad and get on the path to happiness and fulfillment? I believe that therapy is the way to unlock the “good” Phil Connors we all carry hidden away inside a cocoon of worry and fear and self loathing.
I know that some of you may be thinking that it would be easy to work out all of your shortcomings if you knew tomorrow would never come. Well, do any of us know for certain that tomorrow will? Why not start today? Visit the OUR Team page to read about the counselors at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando and give one of us a call. Kim