An unexpected book arrived in the mail the other day. A gift from my friend’s at Wisdom Publications. Zen Master Raven: The Teachings of a Wise Old Bird. by Zen Master human form, Robert Aitken. Here the koans are told by and to animals of the forest: raven, porcupine, owl, woodpecker, badger, black bear, and […]
I am sitting on a train riding from Essex Junction, Vermont to Hartford Connecticut where I will be teaching my workshop at the Copper Beech Institute.
I haven’t been on an Amtrak train since I was in graduate school over 20 years ago. We are moving along at a good clip and the tracks run parallel to the 89 Interstate. The hills and mountains are still snow covered and the sun is shining.
It’s a different way to see the landscape. We are higher up than a car would be and I don’t have to pay attention to the road. My attention is free to attend to this landscape or to write, work, or otherwise distract myself.
We roll along through the towns: Montpelier, Randolph, South Royalton …
Riding the train is a metaphor for how we meet the future. I am not in control as I would be driving a car and this lack of control reflects the deeper lack of control that we all have. Our life is propelled forward and we try to influence it and often are successful doing so but ultimate control is a confused illusion.
The ride may or may not go as expected. The train could break down or crash into something. Likely not, but we never know. Again, no ultimate control.
The train has windows on both sides. If we choose to look, we can see life moving around us or, rather, us moving through life. Language implies a duality where none exists.
The ride is a little bumpy. Even under optimal conditions, there is a little tremor as we move forward. This is similar to the Buddha’s notion of dukkha–the broken wheel of existence. When we treat life as a series of products that must be executed with perfection, we are making life’s ride bumpy. If we can let go of outcomes and be the process, then we are, in a sense, in our truth and free from the pain of dukkha.
Some time from now, I will reach my destination. The anticipated future will be the present moment. I’ll have a choice then, dwell in that present moment or project myself into the future again.
Like the train, I can move forward with the present moment staying with it as it becomes the future moment. These sense of movement, saturated by observation, is a frontier between what I conceive myself to be and what I am. If I am mindful, I remain fluid, connected. If I allow my mind to tell stories then I become separate, alienated from the peace of this moment.
Now the train has come to a stand still after crawling around Springfield, Massachusetts for a while. WiFi has been spotty and has dropped off. Like the train, we get stuck in our lives, whether in a moment or a wide swath.
The train crawled into Springfield station. Backed up slowly. Stopped. Now we are rolling forward again. Who knows what’s going on (the conductor, but I don’t want to bother with him and I don’t really need to know).
Eventually, the train arrives. Reasonably on time, as it were. Life continues to the next adventure.