Have you ever arrived at your train platform and nearly got on the train before the one you wanted, simply because it was there?
Picture the scene: grey slabs underfoot, corrugated iron overhead. Steel girders painted an industrial shade of red. Pigeons. The Pumpkin cafe, which only seems to exist on train station platforms, exudes the faint scent of espresso.
A train approaches. You note the destination. It pulls up, brakes squealing as the wheels roll slowly to a halt. The familiar sound of beeping as the doors prepare to open. Click. Hisssssssss.
Very tempting to get on isn’t it? It would get you off the platform, where you have been doing that most tedious of human activities: waiting.
The train offers a destination. Any destination! How much better to be on our way somewhere than to be just… waiting.
Our thoughts are very similar. A thought occurs: blipping into consciousness out of nowhere and offers us a journey.
‘Would you like to spend 15 minutes thinking about your ex* again?’
We board the train without thinking, striding along a familiar road of memories, experiences, maybe regrets and confusion.
But as the train doors open, we have a choice. The question, ‘would you like to…’ hangs in the air.
The answer could be, ‘No, thank you, I’d rather just get on with the washing up.’
We could observe the train arriving, allow it to leave again on its onward journey, and think about something else instead.
But the practice of simply observing thoughts is not easy. It requires willpower, concentration and tenacity. I must have heard of this train analogy half a dozen times, and I’ve only just actively adopted it.
We have to tune in to what’s happening in our heads or we can end up halfway along an all too familiar track before we realise we accepted the offer to hop on board in the first place.
When life is busy, there’s a big diesel engine marked ‘ADMIN’ blocking the platform. The thought trains don’t show up so much, because more pressing matters are at hand.
However, during a period of quiet, like the one I’m in now, in between jobs, in between partners, and rebuilding myself, it’s handy to have some tools for managing distracting memories.
Not all the trains have negative destinations. Some are delightful, hopeful notions about where I might end up in the future, what I might do, who I might see and spend time with.
But even these joyful projections take me into a fantasy that is not the present moment. They’re perfectly fine for a little while, but the present moment is worth experiencing because after all, it’s the only one we’ve really got.
I’ve just finished series 13 of my daily walking podcast, Walk the Pod. If you haven’t listened to it yet, this is a great series to start with, in which I am often thrown sideways by rabid hayfever.
The podcast is a daily walking show in which I invite you to spend 10 minutes paying attention to what’s directly in front of you.
Join me in the peaceful surroundings of the Wimbledon Chase conservation area cycle path. Let’s spot pups, experience the weather, and enjoy the present moment together!
Series 14 will start on Monday 7 June. I’m building a Walk the Pod walking club on Patreon, and I’d love it if you would join! Perks include beautiful Walk the Pod vinyl stickers, patron shout outs and tours of the podcast ‘set’!
You can reply to this email to let me know what you’ve been up to, if you’d like to. It always makes my day to hear from you.
Lots of love,
*Feel free to insert your own distractions! Could be a troublesome friend, child, parent...