Monday, February 02, 2009

What Can We Learn From 6 More Weeks?

Phil Says "Six More Weeks of Winter!"

Phil's official forecast as read February 2nd, 2009 at sunrise at Gobbler's Knob:
Hear Ye Hear Ye
On Gobbler's Knob this glorious Groundhog Day, February 2nd, 2009
Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of all Prognosticators
Awoke to the call of President Bill Cooper
And greeted his handlers, Ben Hughes and John Griffiths
After casting a joyful eye towards thousands of his faithful followers,
Phil proclaimed that his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers were World Champions one more time
And a bright sky above me
Showed my shadow beside me.
So 6 more weeks of winter it will be.
I have loved this holiday for a long time.  It is so tounge-in-cheek, just good clean fun.  It has no religious significance nor real historical significance.  It does not celebrate the birthdate or deathdate of a heroine or hero.  What it does mark is the significance in man's struggle to be free of the oppressiveness of "a winter bleak and bereft of hope."  The groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, is said to predict whether winter will come to an end or continue for six more weeks.  What I love is that this day is a celebration whether winter ends early or late.

I especially love the movie Groundhog Day.  It's my favorite film.  SPOILER ALERT -- if you have not seen this movie, I am going to give a lot away.  Stop reading this; go out and rent it right now.  Come back when you're done.

The message of the movie connects very tightly with the notion awakening/enlightenment/salvation.  The main character, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is an arrogant Pittsburght weatherman cum p--ahem, urine--and vinegar curmudgeon.  To him, covering Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney is an awful assignment, well beneath his talents.  He spends the day in misery--the weather, the dinky bed and breakfast, it's lack of hot water, the town folks, the tradition = misery.   He enters the day in suffering and sinks further and further into suffering throughout the day.  And the plot basis is: he is inexplicably forced to live that day over and over and over again.

The movie is an analogy of a path to awakening, where Phil goes through many possible attempts at happiness before he finally gets it.  As Phil comes to terms with the situation, he begins exploring different ways to live this day.  One character advises him that it would be great because he could do whatever he wanted without any consequences.  Phil tries it, embarking on a series of rampant thrill rides, one of which gets him killed.  The alarm clock goes off, it's the same day.  He then spends many days committing suicide in various elaborate ways.  Still, every morning, he awakens to the very same day.  He's getting nowhen.

So, we then tries to fulfill himself in other ways.  He plots out how to steal a lot of money quickly in the morning, then spends every day living a life of luxury with fancy cars, weird outfits, and other ridiculous material excess.  He spends time engaging in raw pleasure, eating whatever he wants and engaging in sexual conquests.  Still, he remains unsatisfied.

He tried to explain his situation to people, and even when he manages to convince people of his condition, it still is not lasting.  He wakes up to the same alarm clock the very next day, his confidants oblivious to what he told them the day prior.  Ultimately, even his attempts to share his experiences with others dissatisfy.  He is still missing something crucial.

He spends many days trying--unsuccessfully to seduce his co-host Rita (Andie McDowell).  Each day using information that he learned from a previous day.  One date a wonderful moment occurs with then building a snowman in the park that is then interrupted by a playful snowball fight with some children, and it ends in a romantic moment.  On successive relives of the day, he keeps trying to repeat this, and it gets pretty awkward.  Phil (and we) learn that such charming, perfect moments cannot be forced or planned, that they just have to happen naturally.  Each day, he pushes things too far at the wrong time and gets slapped, ending in a montage of slaps at different times. 

These different ways of unsuccessful living continue throughout the days.  Eventually, he tends in a different direction.  He starts out taking piano lessons, and ice sculpting, and meeting all of the people in the town with genuine warmth.  He finds the dangers that happen in that day and saves people from a boy falling out of a tree to a man choking on a piece of steak.  He knows that he's just going to wake up tomorrow and need to save the same people again, but he does it anyway.  In time, his piano playing and other skills transfer over.  So does his compassion.  He day, he continues to grow and grow.  Eventually, he's at the point where through genuine kindness, motivation to grow, and social outgoingness, he's able to become the most popular and well-liked man in town in a single day.  He connects with people on a real human level and has spent much time growing.  He has learned how to make the worst day into the perfect day.  The calendar finally turns over to February 3rd when he has genuinely grown and connected with humanity and even had Rita pursuing him for the wonderful man that he is.

In many ways, this is what Buddhism tells us.  We will keep reincarnating and living our lives over and over again, failing to find the true purpose in many ways, until we find the true path to happiness and awakening.  Phil Connors was given a very tangible opportunity to do just that.

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