In the great Harold Ramis film, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a self-centered, materialistic egomaniac who must relive a single day over and over until he finally learns how to do it right. Sound familiar? He (like all of us) must pass through one difficult doorway after another on our path of spiritual evolution, often kicking and screaming all the way.
The doors he's forced through in the course of his eternal day are generally forms of surrender and action: realization of powerlessness (the piercing of denial); the destruction of the egoic self, and detachment from attraction of the sensory self (the "dark night of the soul"); service without expectation for rewards, and the realization of true humility (absolute acceptance and tolerance); then the recognition of the eternal in everyone and everything (enlightenment). After passing through these spiritual stages, he finds Love.
In the film our anti-hero Phil is forced to confront the inconvenient truth that the world doesn't revolve around each of us. Becoming aware that I am personally not all that important or powerful is tough, especially when I matter so very much to myself... Doesn't that person on the subway know that I'm trying to get somewhere? Why can't that fellow employee see that my plan is superior? And just why don't I get what I logically deserve (when less deserving people do)? Of course I am getting just that, all the time.
Each day, Phil repeats the same aggravating mistakes, failing to recognize the patterns imposed on him by his self-centeredness. His rudeness, his arrogance, his impulsiveness, his entitlement. (Unfortunately, that sounds familiar too.)
"The mind deludes him, binding him with the bonds of the body, the sensory self, and the ego. It creates in him the sense of "I" and "mine." It makes him wander endlessly among the fruits of the actions it has caused."
Shankara's Crest Jewel of Discrimination
Phil has to come to terms with the harsh truth that he's subject to the same world that all of us must endure, and hopefully transcend. (Don't they know who I think I am?) The failure to find any relief in sensory gratification, and the shattering of his egoic self-importance finally leads him to despair, helplessness, and a profound depression that results in a spree of suicidal self-destruction...but still he wakes up to this life again.
"The ego's intelligence is only a pale reflection of pure consciousness that robs us of our true nature of joy. By identifying ourselves with our ego, we fall into this world's repetitive struggle of birth, discomfort, and death."
Once Phil realizes that there's no escape from the difficulties of this world available from outside of ourselves, he begins to gain access to his intuitive intelligence, recognizing that the answers really lie in his own actions. First, he finds that whatever he wants to accomplish, he can accomplish, if he's willing to lead a simply principled life, accept the position of being a humble beginner, focus, and do his best. He learns how to play the piano, only for the joy of the effort, the joy of living musically, and the joy it brings to others.
"When you make the two into One, you will be a Son of Man; and when you say: Mountain, move! It will move."
The Gospel of Thomas, 106
Then, intuitively, instinctively he begins to help others. Every [eternal] day, the same people (everybody) need his help, and from his acceptance of humility comes the willingness to be of service, with no regard for reward. This is the transcendence of human potential. This is the real impulse for spiritual evolution, for by taking these actions, his great transformation begins as he comes into alignment with the real nature of consciousness, which is the joy of being. He comes ever closer to everyone's goal – the realization of Love in our lives (as our lives).
"He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward, rises."
Mahatma Gandhi, from Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita
As he loses himself in humility and service, he comes to recognize the eternal nature of his true self – everyone, and everything. He learns to live by the simple principles that always put the wind at our backs on the path to spiritual evolution, namely: Honesty, Humility, Compassion, Activity, Generosity of Spirit, and Patience. Only then can he become truly effective, he truly contributes, he finds serenity, family, and Love.
It's funny (it's a very funny movie), but even though the film only lasts a couple hours, we never know exactly how many days Phil lives over and over – dozens, hundreds, millions? As is the case with all our fractal futures, we may never know how many times this single organism we call humanity has lived, and will live this cycle of creation and destruction out on our way to finding our true potential; but like Phil, we all can "make the road home, be home."
Everyday when we wake up, we either see our shadow, or we don't.