Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Sides to the Same Train

When you start riding this train, you feel as though the window shades are drawn tightly shut on this side of the railway car, the side you’re sitting on. Your only view is through the windows across the aisle. There, the scenery you see out the window is horrifying and fascinating all at the same time. It’s complicated scenery out those windows, where you see the people outside engaged in all kinds of confused things. As the train passes by, the people you see by the wayside are busy planning and plotting and worrying, and things aren’t ever exactly as they seem. The people you see out that window always seem to be distracted by other things as they go about their business. It is a very interesting landscape, but also quite exhausting. It is a little like watching a neverending Bosch painting, with all manner of horrifying and terrifying and interesting things going on there. There’s a lot of addiction and compulsion and habit to that life, and not much freedom.

You started riding this train, frankly, because you were just exhausted with that scenery out there. It is the scenery of your everyday life, and you boarded the train hoping to escape it. Perhaps you imagined that after a long, long train ride, you’d find scenery that was more peaceful and joyful. And so you start to ride, turning your head away from the open windows in renunciation of what you see there, the way you've lived up to now.

Pretty soon, though, as you learn how to relax and let go, you begin to see some new, unexpected scenery through the cracks around the window shades on this side of the train, the windows right at your elbow, and maybe soon the shades start to come up a little bit. Or maybe one after the other, a shade or two goes up fully, exposing new windows and entirely different scenery.

And you see that the scenery on this side of the train is much, much different. Much simpler, much cleaner. It was there all along, it wasn’t something you needed to travel long distances for. Maybe you see something like the scenery in parts of Italy, with the blue sea below you, small white sailboats sailing around; and across a azure bay, towering snow-capped mountains in the distance, white billowy clouds filling the sky.

The scenery on this side is much simpler, and when you pass by people in the landscape outside, you see that they don’t seem to be planning or plotting at all, but they are simply doing things. Doing simple things, and doing them simply, elegantly. No addiction, no compulsion, no dreary habit. It is a free landscape.

It is a clean, straightforward landscape, with no subterfuge, no horror. Everything is workable here, everything is pretty much as it looks. No mystery; things are what they are. Things are exactly what they appear to be, no more.

When you become aware that both kinds of scenery exist on the same train ride, there may actually be a point where you’re really not sure that you want the new, cleaner, simpler landscape. You may feel some nostalgia for the horrific Bosch, garden-of-earthly-delights way of living. After all, it is in some ways more interesting than the simple beautiful way of living. It is also more familiar to you, more comfortable in a strange way, so you may actually find yourself preferring the sorrowful life. The clean way of living can seem a little boring, if you’ve been obsessed with confusion for most of your life.

Careful examination will probably tell you which scenery you truly want, but there are people who glimpse the clean way and then reject it. That is their choice, though they may not even realize that they are making that choice.

The important thing is that you recognize that where you turn your gaze is a decision that you make, and that both scenes are present at all times. It’s not that you must travel thousands of miles and many years to see the new landscape. It’s simply a matter of raising the blinds and turning the direction of your head.

You will even come to realize that the beautiful scenery is to be found immediately out the window closest to you, on your side of the train, not across the aisle, and that it’s actually easier to see this than to crane your neck and peer out the opposite side at the ghastly scenery. Following the horrific way of living actually takes the greater effort.

This is one way of looking at the path you've chosen to travel.

4 comments:

Michelle O'Neil said...

Gorgeous!

Tzeitel (Stacy) said...

This a the deep truth isn't it? Choosing peace can be terrifying.

the chaplain said...

Another nice insight. Thanks.

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