I see a shadow
Diane Ashfield draws parallels between the movie Groundhog Day and yoga philosophy
The 2nd of February is known around the world as Groundhog Day. Popular and mostly practiced in North America, the biggest celebration takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where up to 20,000 people come to witness the spectacle on Gobbler's Knob – a small hill on the outskirts of town. This is where a cutesy groundhog (a type of ground squirrel) affectionately named Phil emerges out of his burrow and is said to predict the change of season. If it's a cloudy day he will happily surface from his cosy den – forecasting the beginning of spring, but if the sun comes out and he sees a shadow, he goes scurrying back into his hole – predicting another six weeks of winter.
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays the conceited and self-centred weatherman Phil Connors, who, along with cameraman Larry and producer Rita, finds himself in Punxsutawney covering the Groundhog celebrations as a point of interest for his TV weather slot. Phil’s number one priority is himself. He detests helping others unless it involves personal gain, thinks he is above everyone and lusts after his lovely new TV producer Rita (Andie MacDowell). Phil avoids the old, homeless man begging in the street, has no time for an old school friend, nor anyone else for that matter, and is disgruntled by the fact that Rita has absolutely no interest in him. But then something magical happens and he finds himself living the same day over and over again.
Initially, Phil gorges on food and alcohol, commits crimes (because he knows he can get away with it) and enjoys all the pleasures of a hedonistic and immortal life, but no matter how hard he tries to win her over, Rita still rejects him. Eventually, Phil becomes bored and discovers that having all of eternity is not enough. In desperation that this new life brings him no satisfaction, he kills himself – several times – but to no avail, he just wakes up in the same bed the next morning with Sonny and Cher on the radio!
Okay, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know this is a good story, but what has this got to do with yoga philosophy?
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are said to have been written many thousands of years ago. It is not known who Patanjali was, but it is suggested that he was a great sage who established the Eight Limbs of Yoga, and who later became known as 'The Father of Yoga.' These ancient texts expand on the pure science of yoga, not only for health and fitness but also for the spiritual awakening of the human psyche, establishing the foundations of our entire well-being.
In order to perform meditation, find our true potential, eternal bliss and enlightenment – known as ‘Samadhi’, Patanjali’s sutras (or verses) 1.12-1.16 encourage us to engage in Abhyasa (a constant, regular and uninterrupted practice with an unspecified time-frame) and Vairagya (detachment of dislikes and desires). To achieve steadiness of our minds we have to practice whole-heartedly and consistently and also rid ourselves of personal aversions and cravings which are seen as distractions to the mind. Patanjali doesn’t give us a time limit to reach our enlightenment, but if we can give our journey towards it patient dedication as well as continuous practice, and if we can detach ourselves from our worldly desires and disgusts, our lives will become more meaningful.
Back in Groundhog Day, weatherman Phil eventually comes to accept that he is stuck in this never-ending day, and that the only way for him to find inner peace is to bring significance and a sense of purpose to his life. He achieves this by unselfishly helping people and by learning new skills for the enjoyment and benefit of others such as becoming an accomplished pianist, an ice sculptor and by studying medicine. These achievements all required steady, regular and consistent practice to learn (Abhyasa). Phil also discovers that by detaching himself from all his selfish likes and dislikes (Vairagya), everything in his life suddenly falls into place; he gets satisfaction in life from his unselfish actions, gains respect from those around him from selfless service, plus he also gets the girl! What a shame this movie didn’t win an Oscar!
If you were forced to live the same day a thousand times over, what would you change to bring significance to your life? Maybe we have already had a taste of what this feels like during Covid restrictions where we were living in what seemed like a never-ending time warp of the same day repeating itself. Did you make use of the time and learn something new, help out your neighbours or support your local community?
Finding inner peace requires patience and determination, but it is achievable. We mere mortals may not have all eternity to find everlasting bliss and Samadhi, but small acts of kindness and helping others without expecting anything in return nourishes the soul and elevates our humanity to a higher level. Phil the groundhog may disappear back into his burrow when he sees a shadow, but remember that shadows are created by light - the very thing we are ultimately searching for. Somebody tell Phil.