Life isn’t ever a straight line on a single track. Rather, it’s a progression along many tracks with lots of switching going on. Although I have switched “tracks” purposefully, there were many instances, probably more, where a switch occurred and I didn’t see it coming. The analogy raises questions about control and self-determination. How much control do I really have?
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? Some things happen beyond our control that changes us, at times even altering our destination. In large part, I think it’s our encounter with life’s unexpected turns that urges the search for meaning. Is life just a random sequence of events—over which I have some but not much control? And why all the unexpected switching along the way? What are we to think? How do we respond to change and uncertainty? 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, go with the flow, align and allow. Resistance can be painful.
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 of dollars. 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.
One thing is certain—each track provided a unique set of life lessons, chapters in the story of me and my becoming. Hard lessons learned leave little to regret. Rather, ideally, they lead to constructive intentions and choices when a familiar lesson comes again. My belief for now, and it could change tomorrow, is that life stories are written before we appear—already complete, perfect and happening in the Eternal now. That we don’t remember them allows us to freely choose both tracks and switches. The tracks we’re on lead us toward destinations appropriate to the soul’s plan. The engine of belief provides the momentum. And so, whether or not we’re aware of it, we move in the direction of our beliefs.
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. However, 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 that favor of realization, I feel like the story is unfolding properly and beautifully. I’m 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 we’re on lead us toward destinations appropriate to the 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
On a two-day photographic expedition driving through Illinois, I came upon this scene at sunset. I got out of the car and worked the location, shooting a variety of shots through sunset.