Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, saw his shadow today, predicting six more weeks of winter. It may be worth noting that Phil’s forecast has only been accurate 40 percent of the time over the past decade, so take the rodent’s prognostication with a grain of snow.
Of course, if South Carolina could actually manage six consecutive weeks of winter, that would probably be a miracle in itself. That’s the beauty of this state, its predictably unpredictable weather. Living here is kind of like the experience of TV weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) in the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” who got stuck in a time loop and repeated the same day over and over again. (For those who aren’t familiar, Murray’s character is a cynical, sharp-tongued weatherman who is pained to be covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney and is a pain to everyone around him, spreading his unhappiness with a certain amount of glee. He wakes up the next morning and begins a process of reliving Feb. 2 over and over again.)
Phil’s eventual solution to breaking the loop of monotonously predictable days can provide us a spiritual lesson on how to break free from our ego’s monotonous world that keeps us locked in its game of “seek but do not find,” because it keeps us searching for happiness outside of ourselves. This was Phil’s original solution to his time loop problem. He kept seeking ways outside of himself to break free. He got even more belligerent, more depressed and angrier the longer his predicament lasted. He tried telling those around him that he was reliving the day, but no one believed him, of course.
Finally, Phil hit on a plan. He decided he’d use his days a bit more constructively. He sought out the local piano teacher and took lessons. He learned how to speak French, how to ice sculpt and studied the classics. His motivation wasn’t exactly pure, though, since he was doing all of this to seduce his producer Rita (played by Andie MacDowell). His journey, though, led him to experience things that prompted a transformation from the inside out. As he learned about the struggles and triumphs of the local townspeople who helped him learn his new skills, he grew to actually care about them.
This is the key to Phil’s final escape from the time loop. It was through his relationships with the townspeople, who he had formerly scorned and saw as “other,” that Phil realized he had a lot in common with them and hearing about their ups and downs moved him in ways he didn’t expect. That helped him turn inward to examine his own struggles. It’s this transformation from the inside out that finally produces his release. Instead of a jaded, cynical, people-hating weatherman, he transforms into a caring, tender and open person who genuinely cares about others — and yes, he even gets the girl.
When we’re living entrenched in our ego, seeking happiness and joy outside of ourselves, we’re stuck in our own Groundhog Day loop, doing the same thing over and over and getting less than optimal results. In this loop, we create our own suffering. We feel trapped and become angry, frustrated or depressed, just like Phil did in the early days of his journey through the loop.
It wasn’t so much the repeating days that made Phil miserable, though, as it was his reaction to it. It wasn’t until he decided to stop resisting his reality and instead use his time wisely that he began to turn his whole life around and escape from the repeating days.
Which begs the question, which world are you living in? Are you on the ego’s predictable treadmill of “seek but do not find,” looking for things in this world to provide its predictably fleeting happiness? Or, are you living into your higher, Divine Self that sees a world within that is already full of all the joy, peace, love and happiness you could ever need? If you’re living in that latter world, then, like Phil, you know the desire to extend those infinite inner feelings of joy, peace, love and happiness to everyone you meet.
If you find yourself in the former world, then consider this your invitation to break free from the ego’s daily rut. The first step is follow Phil’s example and be willing to see the world differently. Instead of seeing a world of separation where we are endlessly divided by politics, race, gender, religion or any other difference we perceive, becoming willing to see a beautiful world of innocent people trying their best to see their own worth and live into it in an authentic way.
When we are willing to see how we create our own suffering by playing the ego’s game of “seek but do not find” then we become aware that there is another way to live that offers lasting peace, joy and love. In that awareness we can begin to recognize that spark of divinity within us that calls us to go deeper within ourselves. When realize our unity with God and those around us, then, like Phil, we will extend that love, peace and joy to everyone to transform this world from one based on fear to one based on Love.
That’s when the time loop of the ego is broken and we can emerge into that different world where we see only the beauty and innocence of everyone around us.
And, who knows? We may even get the girl.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.