By Sean Morrow in Film / 1687 views / February 01, 2013
I’ve heard the complex Eastern concept of mindfulness horribly simplified to treating every day like the day you first got glasses (or the first time you saw an HDTV, for the well-sighted — ’seers’ we derogatorily call them in the glasses community — among us), looking at and appreciating everything in detail. This explanation is the limit of my understanding of the concept, but Groundhog Day can also teach us about mindfulness.
Once Phil realizes the ontological fuckery he is enmeshed in, he starts to become more aware of his existence, shedding the tunnel vision (both of his life situation and surroundings) around him. He starts to pay attention to his fellow man, and the simple beauty of the world. This mindfulness is one of the changes that helps him eventually escape from Groundhog Day.
This is one of the most tertiary layers of Groundhog Day. Be a good person. The Buddhist interpretation of the film says that being a good person helped Connors reach enlightenment and escape his February 2nd samsara.
Christians are big on the “it’s the holidays!” theory of kindness, that you somehow owe society being kind during the Christmas season, but you’re not obliged to be kind the rest of the year. I’ll admit it, I’m not even religious and the ‘holiday season’ inspires me to be nicer in a meaningless way, like holding an elevator when I otherwise wouldn’t. In old lady language I change from “a nice young man,” to “such a dear!”
That’s silly, it’s a very silly thing, you should be kind and conscientious all the time, not just a specific time of year, but be extra kind on Groundhog Day, it worked for Phil Connors.
Be Releasing the Past
A great quote of Lao Tzu’s that makes it’s way around the Facebook profiles of wannabe-deep college freshmen is, “If you’re depressed, you’re living in the past. If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future. If you’re at peace, you’re living in the present.” Living in the present links us back to mindfulness, up above, but hey, we shouldn’t be living in the past.
Before he literally becomes stuck in one day, Phil Connors is stuck in a life pattern of an unsatisfying repetitive career, and a refusal to let people get close to him. This is behavior that Connors has picked up in his time as a human, and due to his life experiences. Midway through the film, when he thinks he’ll never see a new day, he decides to treat every day as a new day, and changes his behavior, forgetting his past issues to evolve into a warmer, kinder person. You choose your personality, to a certain degree, and can get stuck in how you think your personality should be. Release that, and be free.
Once Connors realizes his power, he takes full advantage of it. At first he uses it nefariously, but eventually learns to use it for good. Take a look at the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
If you replace “God, grant me,” to “I have,” the Serenity Prayer is actually a really great message. “Things I cannot change” can again be linked to the message “release the past,” and maybe I should’ve mentioned it earlier, but release the past, and I know I already made that joke, but release the past.
Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels (highly recommended, by the way. The best non-fiction book I’ve ever read), outlines how early Christianity was dissimilar to what we see today, and involved the awareness that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you, and the power of the individual and the human mind.
Connors realizes that there are some things he can’t change, the death of the homeless man for example, and some things he can, like whether or not he romantically succeeds with his producer. He has the power to change his life, both externally, and internally. This realization is part of helping him escape Groundhog Day.
The shadow of the rodent is meaningless. There is no need to be stuck in eternal winter. Allow the coming of spring. Keep the Serenity Prayer in mind on Groundhog Day, leaving ‘God’ in, or chopping Him out. Be aware that you are the God of your own mind. Read The Gnostic Gospels. Learn about the world and yourself. Give someone your seat on the subway just because. Forget about your ex, and fall for someone new. Let spring flowers bloom.
Oh also, FUCK YEAH CHRIS ELLIOT.
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