Paying Attention to the Groundhog

Another Groundhog Day has come and gone, and once again we’ve been briefly entertained by the behavior of a large rodent. Surely, the rational mind knows that the groundhog doesn’t determine the change of seasons, and a quick glance at groundhogs’ performances over the decades demonstrate little prognostic relationship with the end of winter or the start of spring.

So why pay attention to the groundhog? A longing for spring is the obvious reason, certainly for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. By February 2nd , depending on the temperature of the previous months, we might be desperate enough to depend on a groundhog for better outcomes.

However, by paying attention to the groundhog perhaps we are not paying attention to February 2nd itself. For isn’t Groundhog Day another form, albeit a harmless one, of desire, of a wish for life to be different than it is. Is hoping for no shadow a form of aversion? Can we be content with what is already present? How often do we find ourselves thinking about the next day or the next week rather than the present day, even when the weather is beautiful? Dr. Ronald Siegel, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School offers a wonderful example of this sort of mindlessness in everyday life. He describes the common situation of being at a delicious dinner with friends at a nice restaurant. The friends are enjoying the dinner, quality of the food, the skill of the chef, each others company. Before long the conversation wanders to comparisons of meals at other restaurants, meals cooked by the previous chef or concern that the new restaurant stay in business. The friends begin to pay attention to the past or the future without conscious awareness. They stop paying attention to the delicious dinner in front of them as they became attached to their desire for more.

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And so maybe there is something to be learned from the groundhog after all. The groundhog spends the summer and fall eating, the winter hibernating, and the spring emerging from hibernation. I’m fairly certain the groundhog accomplishes all of the above without regret for the past or worry about the future. The groundhog lives in the present, if we would just leave him or her alone.

 

~Claire Weiner

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