Thank you to Thrive Global for publishing my article, “Coping with COVID through Groundhog Day, Total Meditation and Badass Habits”
2020 during COVID19 is the second time in my life where I have felt I am living in Groundhog Day, the movie. As you may remember in the 1993 film, Bill Murray plays a disinterested sarcastic chauvinistic weatherman from Pittsburg named Phil who hopes to move on to a bigger TV station and his vibrant enthusiastic producer, Rita, is played by Andie MacDowell. Phil becomes trapped in the same day. He lives through Feb 2nd a countless number of times.
When I worked onboard cruises ships for Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International as well as Renaissance Cruises, there were times when we could not tell one day from another. Certainly, I could tell the difference between Grand Cayman and Cozumel but sometimes we never left the ship and our duties repeated over and over.
In fact, on one ship at midnight, the carpets in the elevator where changed from Monday to Tuesday and so on each day. I figured that made it Groundhog Week. If it’s Wednesday, we must be in Jamaica. Each day of the week repeated its special menu but when you were there for months, it stopped feeling so special to have Italian night on Thursday or Island night on Friday.
I channeled Murray’s character, Phil, as I went through many of the same stages he did while I worked onboard and now at home for COVID19.
At first, he is confused and thinks he has déjà vu. How can it be the same day again? He steps in the same cold puddle of water in the street, he talks to the same people, he freezes in the cold shower and is just not sure what is happening.
He asks Rita for help and while she thinks he is making it up; eventually he goes to a physician for x-rays and a psychiatrist who offers more sessions next week which is exasperating to Phil because he cannot leave this day. In this moment with the uncertainty of COVID, many of us are also getting quite irritated.
One night with his new drunk friends at the local bowling alley, Phil ponders, “What if there were no tomorrow? What if there were no consequences?” They decide to break all of the rules. From now on, he will not clean up his room, be nice to his sister or follow any of society’s orders, he is going to take chances like driving on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. The group are in jail at the end of the night but in the morning, he is back in his bed as if he nothing happened. All sins are washed away.
I have friends who during quarantine chose to eat everything in sight and stay up all night binging on Netflix until it says judgmentally, “Are you still watching this show?” Personally, I watched all nine seasons of 24 and that was a lot of late nights and early mornings. I heard from my friends and myself, “I cannot go out. I cannot do my former work. I feel all alone.” This despair can be felt in the film and made me turn to two new books for ideas.
In Jen Sincero’s Badass Habits: Cultivate the Awareness, Boundaries, and Daily Upgrades You Need to Make Them Stick, she talks about “that most unsavory of human habits: focusing on the negative.” Her book is a “a powerful 21-step process to either anchor in your new habit or permanently banish an old one.” Sincero explains that: “The first step to making any major change in your life is always awareness.” And it turns out that Deepak Chopra’s new book, Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life, is all about awareness.
Both Sincero and Chopra agree with what Sincero says in her book, “Living an awesome life is all about making choices that make your heart sing, and in order to do this, you must become aware of the choices you’ve already made.”
In the movie, Phil is making choices and trying different strategies but he is not getting happier and he is not getting to the next day.
Phil starts to do whatever he wants: kiss a lady, punch a man, eat all the doughnuts, steal the money, dress in costume. For some time all of the excess works for him but then the depression sets in. He tries to kill himself by being blown up, shot, stabbed, poisoned, electrocuted, hung and burnt but always wakes up unharmed. I know many people have been very depressed by the uncertainty, the lack of jobs, the loss of family members, the lack of interactions. Hopefully, you are not taking a bath with the radio but reaching out for actual help.
Phil’s efforts in the movie to date Rita are foiled by his falseness. He memorizes her likes and dislikes. He recites French poetry which she loves but his efforts to impress her fall flat each time because she can sense the set-up.
Phil tries to live without rules, to deceive Rita, to kill himself and then suddenly his character shifts to the self-actualization stage of Abraham Maslow’s pyramid. He begins to better himself and starts to belong. He saves the child who is falling out of a tree, he helps the four ladies with a flat tire, he does the Heimlich maneuver on a man who is choking. He takes piano lessons and learns to ice carve. Instead of focusing on making Rita like him, he becomes a more interesting person.
While I lived on the ship, I thought about this movie often. I started to take piano lessons from someone in the band. I read all the time. I practiced Spanish. I took scuba diving classes and I volunteered in many other departments. I used the time to try new things, make connections and it changed my experience from feeling trapped to feeling thrilled. I taught yoga, I made my own prayerbook for Friday night Shabbat services. It found a way that worked for me.
At the beginning of COVID19, when all my travel plans were canceled, I thought about what I could do. I have been reading books and writing about them. I use the app Duolingo to practice my Spanish every day and I am now at 231 days. I work on my photos, my videos and all of the pieces of my once busy travel journalism career. I am learning a new video editing program.
Many days feel like a rollercoaster where I go through all of Phil’s emotions in one day. I want to break all the rules, I want COVID19 to be over, I want my old life back. But there are days when I see that I have made progress.
If you need help with getting through these stages and finding a way to make peace with the ongoing uncertainty of living in 2020 with COVID19, I highly recommend both Jen Sincero’s book, Badass Habits, and Deepak Chopra’s Total Meditation.
Sincero explains that when “we wake up and realize that we can choose to question our beliefs rather than spend our lives blindly playing victim to the ones that no longer work for us.” I know she is talking about how we live during normal times, during COVID times and in reaction to Phil’s early tantrums in the movie. When he changes his habits, he ends up getting what he wants which is to start a new life with Rita.
In order to have the life we want, Chopra explains that: “meditation isn’t something otherworldly. It is quite natural. In fact, we have all been meditating since birth.” We can have mindfulness, concentration, self-inquiry and a quiet mind.
As Chopra states, “When you act unconsciously, you are asleep. When you act consciously, you are awake.” We want to be more awake. You could say that Phil was asleep in Groundhog Day until he choses his best life and wakes up to the next day.
“You need to live in the present moment with certainty about your purpose. You need to allow life to unfold without knowing in advance what the future holds. You need to trust that, at some level, consciousness is taking you in the right direction. These are the basics, the foundation, of being awake.”
In his book, Chopra shares ten total meditation exercises, a 7-day meditation course to increase insight with three questions to focus on: “What am I doing right? What isn’t working for me? What is my next step?” and “fifty-two mantras that can be used as a year’s course in mantra meditation or chosen one at a time to spontaneously enrich your inner life.”
Here are a few examples of the mantras:
9. Dum [Doom] I am fearless and strong. This seed mantra’s sound supports the energy of maternal protection, encouragement, strength, and empowerment.
26. So Ham [So Hum] I am. This mantra is so simple that it is hard to see its real significance. “I am” means that your true self exists. It has never not existed. It will never cease to exist.
41. Om Shrim Maha Lakshimiyei Namah [Ohm Shreem Mah-ha Lahk-shmee-yay Nuh-mah] I invite abundance and prosperity. This mantra is about the fullness of life. Nature abounds in all good things, and your true self connects you to the infinite abundance of pure consciousness.
52. Om Shanti Om [Ohm Shahn-tee Ohm] I radiate peace. Shanti is the sound for peace in all its facets: peace in the mind, peace in the world, peace in existence itself.
I hope that you find a path in the uncertainties of COVID19 where you can walk in consciousness and feel awake. I believe that Phil in Groundhog Day reminds us of how we get stuck, have stumbled and find our way. Perhaps, Sincero or Chopra’s book can offer guidance out of the darkness of this season and this virus.