Seeing the Shadow
by Dairyu Michael Wenger Sensei
The real voyage of discovery consists
not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
The film Groundhog Day demonstrates the wonder of living each moment as a totally new event. It follows a day in the life of weatherman Phil Connors, a sarcastic curmudgeon. He wakes upon the same day, Groundhog Day, again, and again, and again. His namesake, Phil the groundhog (himself a weatherman), sees his shadow, is frightened and goes back into his burrow, thus predicating six more weeks of Winter. Phil Connors is frustrated by living the same day over and over again. He wants to get somewhere else, find new circumstances, he tries to escape each day with the scenarios of his life. He pursues sex, but after a while it is a dead end. Crime is exciting but becomes tiresome. Drinking, therapy, suicide, finding a love relationship, all are explored. The habits and shadows of his life are found wanting.
Each action has consequences. This is the
law of karma: he has a choice, but each choice leads to a new reality.
Perhaps the turning point of the movie is when he tries to save a
homeless man day after day after day, and, no matter what he does, the
man dies. He really wants something and is powerless to insure its
happening. We have freedom, but within limits. This is "samsara" in
Buddhism, the cycle of becoming driven by our karmic intentional
activity. We have desires and wants but we may never reach them.
Eventually, through many days [lifetimes] he chooses a life of service,
works through his demons, and breaks the cycle of Groundhog Day.
Each moment becomes a new opportunity, so the same situation is brand new and his unique response leads to a unique result.
If we recognize what is driving us, and clarify our true intention, the unexamined shadows are no longer about some solely external reality or objective weather, but about us. Each moment is a new beginning. Our projections and stance in the world can cast a long shadow on our lives, and the Spring of each moment is postponed for a long Winter. If you examine and test your perceptions, each moment brings forth a new world. If we lead an unexamined life, we feel each day is different, but it is really a rerun of our habits. If we examine a disciplined life closely, each instant can blossom into a unique flower.
This film parallels Buddhist practice. In a training temple, the wake-up bell rings the same time every day. You go to the same place, wear the same clothes, and follow the same routine, and yet each moment is unique. Not distracted by your desire for changed conditions, you can live each moment not knowing what it will bring, seeing the familiar landscape with new eyes.
Phil Connors in the end "wins the girl." He gives up trying to possess her, so that true intimacy, true participation, can occur. Affecting and being affected by each other and each thing is the true interpenetration of self and other.
The cycle of samara is broken, his shadows are seen through, and each moment blossoms.
As in the tenth ox-herding picture, Phil Connors comes out of his burrow to the market place with gift bestowing hands. He sees the shadow of his reflections and bows to it, as it must to him.
© Copyright Dairyu Michael Wenger, 2004