“The worn-out carpet recounts a thousand stories as it unravels.” ~ Gary Thorp
Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies. Most of you know the plot, but if you don’t, Bill Murray is a weatherman who’s been sent to Punxsutawney, PA, to cover the story of the groundhog’s shadow as a weather prognosticator.
But in some Twilight Zone quirk of fate, Murray gets trapped there. He always wakes up at 6 a.m. to I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher playing on the radio. And it’s the same day. Over and over and over again.
I think most people resonate to this film — not only because it’s funny — but because it speaks a great truth. Aren’t our lives a lot like Bill Murray’s in this movie?
We get caught in the same routine, meeting the same people, driving the same way to work, going to the same meetings at the office or school, the same laundry, house cleaning, meals, and in essence, living lives that are the same old, same old.
Day after day after day.
Like Murray in that movie, we may feel trapped. But are we? Truly?
Here is a story: Years ago I had been in a high-stressed job and wanted to get away, not only from the routine of the daily grind, but the craziness of the world. So I went to a cloistered monastery for a week. Yes, you heard right. I knew in that environment I would find the peace, quiet and the prayer I craved. And I did.
The first few days were bliss. I woke early with the good sisters in the fresh darkness of early morning where a hush of palpable peace fell over the chapel. I listened to their sweet, high-pitched chants during liturgies and evening vespers. I ate simple meals of warm, home-baked bread and sweet spinach and carrots from their garden. And each second was savored in absolute and blessed silence. No jarring phones, countless emails or endless blathering at meetings.
I loved it. But by day four, I was getting antsy. The repetitiveness of the days was becoming monotonous and it seemed I had traded one routine for another. In the quiet of that monastery, I wondered how these women did the same schedule, ad infinitum, without going crazy. And yet, to this day, they were some of the most peaceful and joy-filled women I’ve ever met.
Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister has said: “We learned that the power of Benedictine prayer lies in its regularity. It’s regular … like the dripping of a faucet on the ground of our hearts. The daily schedule consists of the same prayers and chores repeated over and over again until we see God’s presence.”
Someone once asked His Holiness the Dali Lama to find the one word he would use to describe the secret of happiness and to living a fulfilling life. Without hesitation, he replied: Routine.
In his book Sweeping Changes Gary Thorp points out that the word “routine” originally meant “a route or course of travel for trading” or a “religious pilgrimage” and has only recently come to mean “ordinary” or “of no special quality.”
But if we consider our daily lives as a spiritual pilgrimage — well then, maybe that’s not so boring. Maybe there is indeed meaning in the daily humdrum of our lives.
Yeah, right. How do we do that?
Like most things in life, it’s not easy. Believe me, I’m the first to say I hate monotony and the tedium of the day. And yet, as I age, I’m learning that routine offers me a structure and a way to approach what’s before me in a different way. How? To revisit the movie Groundhog Day, here’s the answer.
Each day, the script never changes for Murray and in a myriad of ways, he tries to escape the “sameness” of that one day. He says, “I wake up every day … right here. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Until he slowly realizes the answer. He CAN do something about it. He comes to understand that he alone has the power — not to change the day — but to change himself.
He begins to develop compassion for the people he meets. He transforms from a self-centered man to one who gives to others. He helps an elderly man; changes a flat tire for some distraught women; catches a child falling from a tree; discovers childlike joy in the snow again; and finds love. Selfless love.
Within the routine of our days, no matter how boring, we can do the same. We can see the interconnectedness of life, bless the smallest of our daily repetitive tasks, and offer thanks that we always have the power to find the sacred lurking in the ordinary.
We alone can shift our perspective. And then, like Murray, we become free. Truly free.