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Today is Groundhog Day – does that mean anything to you? This admittedly trivial annual mid-winter event has little significance beyond an opportunity for some light-hearted fun.
As written in the Book of Proverbs – “A cheerful heart is good medicine” – so a day for silly fun is probably a good thing.
With its origins in the Pennsylvania Dutch community in the United States, Groundhog Day is also observed in Canada, where I live. The traditional story claims that we will get a prediction about how much more winter weather lies ahead based on whether a groundhog’s shadow appears at a particular moment.
So far this year here in Southwest Ontario, we have not had much winter weather, but that won’t stop the events surrounding Wiarton Willy in Wiarton, Ontario — the closest site for a major Groundhog Day event. Ironically though, in Canada, as in the US, studies repeatedly show that the prediction is wrong about as often as it is right. So maybe the prediction itself isn’t the main attraction — if anyone really cares about accuracy, that is.
Groundhog Day and Pop Culture
Now that you know something about the actual Groundhog Day event, let’s look at how the phrase itself has taken on new meaning. Since 1993, the words “Groundhog Day” often bring to mind the movie starring Bill Murray, which offers a slightly different meaning to “Groundhog Day.”
In the film, Murray plays a television reporter covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. While there he somehow, inexplicably, falls into a time-loop wherein every morning he finds himself back in the same day — over and over again, countless times. He soon discovers that he has the power to change his behavior, although the next morning he’s back to where he began. Risking a spoiler to anyone who hasn’t seen the film, I will say that gradually he progresses from questioning this strange time loop, to playing with it, to testing its limits, to learning from it. When he finally does learn the truths he needs to know, then actual change and personal growth occur.
Obviously the film is a comedy, not meant to be taken seriously – but that doesn’t mean we can’t find truth within it. After all, some of the greatest truths come from humor.
Change and Free Will
While I was developing ideas for writing this article, I began by looking for quotations on “Groundhog Day.” To my surprise, almost every quotation was about change rather than the calendar event. One of my favorites is this one from Tolstoy, reminding us that change begins with ourselves: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” While I doubt that “no one” is literally true, the essence of this quotation – that change is ultimately an individual’s responsibility – is surely true.
We humans have been blessed with free will, and that allows us to influence our own path through life. We cannot always have everything we want, but we can at least choose how to react to what happens. Abdu’l-Baha frequently wrote about free will. This passage from his book Some Answered Questions sums it up:
Certain matters are subject to the free will of man, such as acting with justice and fairness, or injustice and iniquity — in other words, the choice of good or evil actions. It is clear and evident that the will of man figures greatly in these actions.
Clearly, we each have choices with potentially great impact. But is it enough to make a choice, to do something once or twice, and then consider the change made?
Again I turn to Abdul-Baha for insights into this question. In a talk to the Theosophical Society in London in 1912 he said: “The attainment of any object [or goal] is conditioned upon knowledge, volition and action. Unless these three conditions are forthcoming there is no execution or accomplishment.”
Let’s say I have a goal to change something — whether that be something large or small, personal or involving others, material or intellectual. Whatever it may be, I need to know what I want to change; I need to want it enough to do the work required; and I need to ensure that I align my actions with my goals.
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Forming New Habits
What if every day we’re all in a time loop, in the sense that we wake up with the choice to keep doing the same things or to make changes in our lives? The film Groundhog Day shows Bill Murray’s character taking time to make permanent, meaningful changes. He has to mature enough to think differently; to adjust his actions; to internalize change and not just go through the motions; to communicate earnestly and sincerely. That process reminds me of a quotation from the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Baha’i Faith. Though written in a different context, it offers lessons for everyday living: “Change is an evolutionary process requiring patience with one’s self and others …”
Beyond Groundhog Day
Is there something in your life, your relationships, your progress toward a goal that you would like to change? Are you stuck in old habits that no longer serve you? If you make a change to those habits, are you willing to be patient, to persevere, to trust that results will occur?
I suspect most of us are interested in change and growth. As a starter, we can decide on one thing, even something small, that we want to change. Then we can build on that in the following days, weeks, or months. We will learn along the way, and we may even be surprised with the outcome – and here’s some more good news: A groundhog’s shadow is not required.