In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a crotchety weatherman, Phil, ceaselessly reliving February 2nd over and over again, waking day after day to find that he must once again report on Punxsutawney Phil, the prophetic groundhog. According to lore, if Punxsutawney spots his shadow upon emerging from his burrow we’d better bundle up for six more weeks of winter. If, on the other hand, Phil’s shadow is nowhere to be found then it’s said spring is around the bend.
In other words – it’s bloody dark outside and we’re all in a hole. And we get one day out of the whole year to crawl out and IF there happens to be sun, it will reveal our shadows. This emergence offers a wake-up call, a break from the rut, from our habits, from the dark, dreary, damp, cold, dormant life. Hallelujah! There’s a crack and that’s how the light gets in.
But what do we do after we’ve seen our shadows?
In the film, Phil the weatherman experiences life as a time-loop, watching his self-centered mistakes and missteps happen again and again. Until he figures out that he can stop the loop by examining his ways, and, like Phil the groundhog, face his shadows.
Phil’s repetitive, unending groundhog day can be seen as every day of our lives. Years might go by without our noticing – days, seasons and cycles passing one after the other right before our eyes. Like Phil, can we break free from the time-loop by paying attention?
Contemplative practices, which are in themselves repetitive, hold the promise of this insight. We might stare at a wall day in and day out; or focus on the tip of our noses; or concentrate on the breath; or roll out a yoga mat and practice the same ashtanga yoga sequence that we did yesterday, today, and that we’ll do again tomorrow.
In the Hollywood version we get a hero and a romantic ending to the tune of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” In our version, we just go back to the mat. We habituate ourselves to a rhythm and method, to a sequence and breath count so that we might, through the tireless repetition, better see where we’re a little rough around the edges.
Rhythm setting, we learned from the 2017 Nobel Prize winners for medicine & physiology, is present in all multicellular life, and in fact circadian rhythms keep our lives attuned to the Earth’s diurnal cycle – we rise and set with the Sun because of our biological clocks.
So science reaffirms what perennial wisdom has always known. Groundhogs, humans, and creatures of all kinds crawl out of their holes to greet the dawn, or Uṣas, in Vedic cultures. Shining and radiant, Uṣas, who resides in the Gāyatrī Mantra brings relief from the dark, but also possibility, hope and a luminous path before daybreak.
भर्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑धीमहि ।
धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त् ॥
dhiyo yo naḥ prachodayāt
please inspire our choices.
May luminous wisdom and knowledge flow like water,
And this in our hearts move us forward.
—Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time & Everyday Life