Last week’s contemplation on entrainment prompted me to think more about railroad tracks as a metaphor for life’s journey. I was editing other images and came across this one, a demonstration that life isn’t a straight line on a single track, but a progression along many tracks with lots of switching in between. Looking back I realized that although I have switched “tracks” purposefully, there were many instances, probably more, where a switch occurred and I didn’t see coming. The analogy raised questions about control and self-determination.
Certainly, I can choose a destination and get on board with ideas and plans to get me there. That’s entrainment. But what about those switches, the plans that don’t—or do—work out, the emergency phone call, lottery ticket, birth, diagnosis, failed plans, new interest or the person we meet who changes the course of our lives? We can’t plan ahead because we don’t see them coming. Often we can’t choose or refuse them. Things happen beyond our control that change us, at times alter both our direction and destination. In large part, I think it’s our encounter with life’s unexpected turns that urges our search for meaning. If I’m not totally in control of my life who is? And why all these unexpected switches along the way? There are many responses to these questions, but no one knows for sure. When switches altered my dad’s life journey he would shrug his shoulders and say “What can you do?” Indeed, when life is leading, the wise course is resignation—to go with the flow, align and allow rather than resist.
Somewhere along the line, likely paralleling philosophical tracks, I found comfort in the notion that the inner animating force—I call it the “soul”—of each individual is like the engineer on a train, making decisions about which tracks to take and which switches to activate, when and where. Looking back I can see how my life as been punctuated by unanticipated events, people and experiences that altered my course. Some were outright challenges that were either met or not—opportunities for growth. Others were tangible opportunities, like when a full scholarship to graduate school was presented to me without my even applying. Others were gifts, one of the most memorable being a friend’s sale to me of about $8,000 worth of high-end darkroom equipment for one dollar. And then there’s the lost opportunity as when Ansel Adams offered to sell a group of us students at RIT, original photographs for fifty dollars—prints that now sell for hundreds of thousands. Seen rightly, the negative ones were opportunities as well. In retrospect I can barely imagine that I was all those people who did what I did and didn’t do what I now wish I had. That every switch and each new track presented an opportunity of one kind or another adds credence to the soul being in the driver’s seat.
It’s not hard to believe in past lives, considering that in this one I’ve been on so many tracks—constructive and destructive—that I barely recognize the person I was. Only when I ask myself why I did and didn’t—whatever—does the integration of answers remind me that each track provided a unique set of life lessons, chapters in the story of me, which is a story in progress. Hard lessons learned leave little to regret. Rather, ideally, they lead to constructive intentions and choices when a particular lesson comes again. My belief for now, and it could change tomorrow, is that soul stories are already complete, perfect and happening in the Eternal now.
I’m a believer in belief. I think it’s creative, determinative of our personal realities and prerequisite to manifesting the components of that reality. Gandhi described the mechanism—
Your beliefs become your thoughts
Your thoughts become your words
Your words become your actions
Your actions become your habits
Your habits become your values
Your values become your destiny.
Through years of study, personal experiences, readings and conversations with people like Dr. Beatrice Bruteau, the mentor who I mentioned last week, I’ve come to believe that the soul, which is already one with the universe, has constructed a plan for each individuation. But that once embodied, the egoic personality can choose to alter it. Further, I believe that we will ultimately need to confront the lessons of the plan that we ourselves have made—lessons that balance, correct and lead us toward realization. The question is, “With regard to the more difficult choices, when life throws a switch that’s uncomfortable or undesirable, will we face it now or later?”
There are instances when a particular track or switch is obviously part of the plan—as when I discovered photography, met my wife and saw my daughter for the first time. More often it’s by hindsight that I learned an event was part of the plan. In either case, knowing that my universal Self is driving my life toward the fulfillment of my purpose, that it’s setting me on the right tracks at the right time and will continuously throw the switches the favor of realization, I feel like the story is unfolding properly and beautifully. And I am grateful for that, including the privilege of feeling that way. Of course, there is no way to know if my beliefs are in alignment with Absolute reality. But they are comforting and the effects are constructive.
I harbor another belief that personal realities are relative to the individual. Obviously, they’re personal, and as I said, creative. As we believe, so we tend to become. Certain eastern spiritual traditions go so far as to say that when we die our experience coincides with our beliefs about the afterlife. Christians will walk with Jesus. Buddhists will sit with Buddha. Muslims will feast with Mohammad. Again, we cannot know. The tracks were on lead us toward destinations appropriate to our soul’s plan. And the engine of belief provides the momentum. And so, whether or not we are aware of it, we move in the direction of our beliefs.
NOTE: If this is a topic that interests you, I highly recommend a book by cellular biologist Bruce Lipton entitled, The Biology Of Belief. He presents recent studies on the biochemical effects of the brain, showing that all the cells of our bodies are affected by thought. Further, he talks about the profound effects this has on our personal lives and the collective life of our species. It’s a great read!
This is a make-believe world. We make it according to our beliefs.
The most powerful thing you can do to change the world is to change your own beliefs about the nature of life, people and reality to something more positive… and begin to act accordingly.
About This Image
Title: Rail Lines At Sunset
Location: Tuscola, IL.
It was magic hour on a July day when, after traveling the back roads of mid-state Illinois, I came upon this scene. The pink of the sky reflecting brightly on the rails with the sun on the horizon had me literally stopping on the tracks and backing up. I jumped out of the car. There was no time to put the camera on a tripod, so I braced myself against the door and used a relatively slow shutter speed to maximize the depth-of-field. I wanted the tracks near and far, including the sun to be tack sharp. To insure this I bracketed the shutter speed. Finally, as I often do, I switched the camera from “Aperture Preferred” to “Auto.” The latter exposure is the one I liked best.