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Groundhog Day was produced in 1993. The movie revolves around a weatherman, Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray), who is on an assignment covering Groundhog Day in a small town in the USA. Phil is a very arrogant, cynical and a generally unpleasant person. He gets stuck in the town during the unexpected snow blizzard and get trapped in a time warp. He wakes up over and over again to the exact same day each morning and has to relive it, without anyone else realizing they are in a time loop. Each day he has to deal with the harsh winter and environment, the people in the town and especially himself. Being stuck in this town forever is his nightmare so he becomes confused and eventually suicidal, but not before realizing that his behaviours have no consequences which leads him to making risky decisions such as binge drinking, one-night stands, and reckless driving (see pic below).
After some time, he confides in his co-worker and love interest, Rita (played by Andie MacDowell) and tries to improve himself, at first to only impress her. Eventually, he starts to use his knowledge of the day’s events to try to better himself and the lives of the town’s people. For example, preventing a homeless man’s death or catching a teenager when he falls from a tree.
It’s only when his actions become selfless that his cynicism and ego disappear he finally stops reliving the same day, and, of course, wins Rita’s admiration. Groundhog Day movie teaches a lot of yoga related lessons- letting go of the ego, being selfless and seeing happiness in everything.
Overcoming the ego (ahamkara) is one of the fundamental principles a modern yogi strives for. Ego is defined as a person’s sense of self-esteem, self- importance and self-worth. As you can tell, there is a lot of “I” involved with this.
Letting go of the ego is probably the hardest thing an individual can do – it takes discipline, commitment, sacrifice and some type of enlightenment. If we are not enlightened, all of the experiences get related to our ego.
As mentioned in Yoga Internationally- “psychologically speaking, the ego is an essential and necessary aspect of human development. From a spiritual perspective, however, the ego is a mechanism by which we distort reality.”
This sums it up nicely. There are many different types of yoga but many refer to the same basic message– the human present state (modern state) of ego-habituation is a state of suffering (dukkha) from which we should strive to release ourselves.
The true nature is the all encompassing of Self, Spirit, God or Emptiness. This requires reaching enlightenment.
When you let go of the ego, you become entirely selfless and obtain the desire to serve all living things. Being selfless means doing the right thing, following your personal Dharma and accepting that the universe is guiding you on your true path.
Dharma can also relate to Yamas and Niyamas which are the foundation of the yoga lifestyle. The first limb, the Yamas, are non-violence, truthfulness, refraining from stealing, sexual restraint and non-covetousness (Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha).
In the Groundhog Day, Phil Connors starts to practice non-violence when he saves the homeless man from dying and catches the teenager while he is falling from a tree. He realizes that all life is important and values (versus when in the beginning of the movie, he did not care about the homeless man or the teenager).
Phil also practices truthfulness when he explains to Rita what is happening to him. Of course, Phil does not get there right away and tries to lie his way into Rita’s bed first, but he learns his lessons in the end and by practising selflessness and truthfulness, he enriches the lives of those around him and becomes a better person.
The second limb, the Niyamas, are purification, contentment, asceticism, self-study and devotion (Shaucha, Samtosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana). These practices extend the ethical codes of conduct provided in the first limb, the yamas, to the practicing yogi’s internal environment of body, mind and spirit.
In the movie, Phil has to take a long, hard look at himself and decide what type of person he wants to be and how he wants to live each day, even if it is the same day over and over again.
Phil eventually decides that he wants to better himself and help those around him. He learns how to play the piano, make ice sculptures and speak French while he is stuck in the time loop. In the end of the movie, he becomes content with his life.
He has a really good day in the town, being generous and helpful, and at the end of the day he tells Rita no matter what happens and even if he has to relive the same day again and again and wake up each morning alone forever, he is finally happy. It is the next day he find himself waking up next to Rita and the time loop is finally broken.
Groundhog day has earned praise and popularity over the years and it still a relevant movie in modern day and age (which is very impressive given the fact that it was produced in 1993). “Groundhog Day”, as an expression, has become shorthand for the concept of spiritual transcendence.
Due to this, many Buddhists appreciate and favour the film and can relate to its themes of selflessness and “rebirth”. The movie’s message of placing the needs of others above our own selfish desires resonates with many individuals and powerfully and meaningfully relates to the yoga lifestyle.