trains to nowhere

Previous: Autopilot

Trains to Nowhere

Going down peripheral paths mindlessly is like getting on the wrong train in our mind.  And when we’re on autopilot, we tend to get on trains we ought to let go by.  Imagine standing in a train station, standing on a platform.  We want to take the train to a town nearby and we have a bunch of tickets in our hand.  The trains are not very clearly marked and sometimes they seem to be going to where you want to go.  A train pulls in and, automatically, we hop on.  We’re on autopilot.  A few stations along the way, we realize we’re on the wrong train.  The scenery doesn’t look familiar.  Or maybe it does look familiar but it’s not pleasant, some place we’ve been to and want to avoid revisiting.  Having acted without awareness, we find ourselves in a state of mind we never intended to visit and the journey back may take a while.

We’re born with a large number of train tickets and if we’re not mindful about which train to get on, we can spend much of our time wandering the backroads of our experiences and feeling exhausted from having to find our way back home.  The thinking patterns we encounter when we feel anxious or depressed is typical of what we mean by “getting on the train.”  In one moment, we may be feeling sad or blue; in the next moment we’re caught in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.  Mindfulness practices allow us to attend to the nature and direction of the train that pulls in to our station.  In terms of emotional experience, mindfulness practices allow us to be aware of the early stirrings of a feeling and see clearly our choice of actions.

Jobs are lost, finances are depleted, friends and family members do leave us.  Illnesses are terminal and pain can be unrelenting.  These are events that have painful consequences for our health, functionality, and relationships.  When we’re deep in such pain, it’s hard to believe this is only the surface of the challenge to perceptions.  At a deeper level, when we are in painful times, our sense of who we are is challenged.  Our definition of who we are, our belief of who we would have been under certain circumstances, and our trust in our capacity to effect change in an individualistic way have been shaken.  Not only is our glass of mud and water stirred up and the vision of our true nature occluded, we are terrified that things will never be the same again.  When we engage in a practice of mindfulness we learn to see clearly that one part of this experience is mud and to remember that the other part is still pure water.

Next: Wellbeing


Previous: muddy waters


Losing sight of who we are is an easy skill to develop.  In fact, we tend to practice clouding our vision as a daily way of being.  In order to get things done, we live much of our lives on autopilot.  We walk into a room and forget why we went there.  We go to the grocery store for milk, buy a bunch of stuff, and forget to buy the milk.  We set out on our daily drive to work and can’t remember much of the trip there.  We feel frustrated with our aging or preoccupation.

Bring to mind your day.  When you woke up, were you aware of that moment of growing awareness of what it feels like to be in bed or were you already caught in the activities of the day to come?  As you were showering, were you feeling the water on your body or were you already wondering how to get breakfast ready for yourself, your partner and/or your children?  At breakfast, were you already in the car?  When driving, were you already at that meeting with the boss or colleague that you were dreading?  At any given time in the day, we are likely living a time zone or two away.  Yet, if asked, we would probably say that we’re very aware of what we’re doing and where we’re going.  We have maps, lists, plans, and beeping reminders on our computers or phones to tell us where we are in time and space.  In fact, we get indignant if we’re told we’re not paying attention.

Just as the eye cannot see itself and the hand cannot grasp itself, it is hard for us to be aware of who we are in each moment.  The busy mind carries us away at the speed of thought and we live in a world where that busy-ness is valued as something positive.  At the same time, multitasking and rapid information processing is a necessity in our fast-paced world.

The problem is not that so much is going on in this moment.  That’s the nature of mind; it’s a busy place that’s been described as being like a monkey that’s drunk and been stung by a bee.  It swings rather wildly at times and there’s no predicting where it will end up.  Problems arise when the peripheral issues trip up the primary intention.

Next: trains