As we transition from religion to psychology in this the first essay in this chapter, we will depend on insights from both of those institutions. And yet, at the same time, our goal is to transcend both and replace the intellect with our intuition as the “operator” of the train we are about to board. Many of us like the thrill of a wild ride but others the more tranquil experience which is offered by Amtrak for example. Without further adieu, all aboooaard!
To travel or not to travel, that is the question facing humanity today. Would it be nobler in the course of human behavior to hit the road or stay put? Planes, trains and automobiles are packed but where is everyone going and why? Using the books and articles of several writers, we join the peripatetic and speculate on their motives for being ever on the move. By the time we finish this essay, we may be have a better understanding of what we humans are seeking when we leave home.
Let us return to the station before the choo choo leaves without us. (In truth, it is our own mind that is the vehicle in which we travel to the past/future in search of distraction and pseudo-pleasures.) When we hear the conductor give the boarding call, if we listen closely (which we usually don’t) we would hear, “All aboooaard! Among our stops will be Plenty, Pleasure and Power in the great and glorious State of Suffering.”
The Americans we are going to travel with today were too preoccupied to hear the aforementioned boarding call as we shall see. Oh! By the way we will by traveling for 47 hours, through the southern half of America on the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles, a distance of 1,995 miles—but for some, it will seem much longer.
The choo choo is an escape in and of itself but some resourceful travelers supplement the primary escape with other very common pastimes. Two that go well together are process and substance addictions, examples are gambling and alcohol. At Schriever, Louisiana, long-time friends from Thibodaux, Louisiana, Vickie, Alice, Debbie, Barbara, Chris, Clair and Cootz board the train. They are traveling for five hours to Lake Charles where they will check in to L’Auberge Casino Resort for two days of gambling.
When The New York Times columnist Nathaniel Rich loses his balance passing between the two booths occupied by the casino-bound ladies in the lounge car, they decided to have some fun. “Hey-ey! Choo-choo! They dissolved into hysterics. It was a little past 10 a.m. They had told each other that they wouldn’t dip into their vodka until noon.” They told Rich that they were in the process of escaping good old Thibodaux, if only for a couple of days.
Rubbing shoulders with our American brothers and sisters we encounter a mix of True-self and false-self behaviors—mostly false self—mostly fleeing their shadows and the reactions of their false-self survival strategies. It gets a little sad but if we can look at the suffering of others we perhaps see our own suffering being reflected back and decide to do something about it.
Another way to distract ourselves from existential suffering is to become immersed in a hobby. Our next fellow traveler is Steve King. Steve is a train buff, a rail fan or a GERI (glassy-eyed rail fan), or a foamer, a term coined by railroad employees referring to people who became so excited by trains that they seemed to foam at the mouth like rabies victims. Hobbies can morph into obsessions for those seeking to be distracted from their suffering.
Steve is obsessed with trains and train schedules. “King wrote two books for publishers that specialize in train literature, including 19 East, Copy Three about the timetable system used to govern train traffic before computers. He collects Official Railway Guides, large bound volumes, published between 1868 and 1995, that contain passenger-railroad schedules in the United States and Canada; his oldest edition dates from 1910.”
One of Steve’s gripes is the unfair subsidy that airlines receive vs. that received by Amtrak. This is one reason it is often cheaper to fly than to take the train. A round trip ticket from New Orleans to Los Angeles, for example costs $320. A plane ticket can cost about the same but saves about 85 hours. “The financial calculus can shift if you have to buy a one-way ticket at the last minute, which is why a surprisingly high percentage of long-distance-train passengers are escaping something.” Many Americans are trying to escape but some seem to be in a hurry to do so. Rich has just revealed his insight that his fellow train travelers seem to be running away from something or someone.
Another distraction often motivating people to hit the road is very, very common as in Mammon, the green stuff, moolah; the main source of energy in the security center of the false-self survival strategy. “If only I had enough cash, my suffering would go away.”
When Rich asked our next passenger, Michelle Davis, age 20, how she defined success, she answered, “Happiness,” she said. “As in, having money.” We know that Michelle was running away from something because she is terrified of trains and had never ridden on one before.
“‘Trains scare me way more than airplanes,’ she said. She was thinking about the “Final Destination” horror movies, in which trains kill characters by derailing, colliding with automobiles, running into each other, smacking into walls, tumbling over and splitting apart … She calmed herself by looking out the window.” Michelle had to distract herself from her distraction.
At Los Angeles, some of us leave the Sunset Limited and catch the next train heading north. Later, as we roll out of the station in Sacramento, we can’t help notice a cluster of homeless people all but hidden in the tall grass. They too had been hoping to hop on a different train to distraction but they met with a temporary obstacle. Union Pacific patched the hole in the fence blocking their access to the freight train to fantasy land. But never mind, they have a fall-back vehicle.
William Vollman offers around his hip flask as he ponders the escape that will happen when a fellow transient will reopen the hole and the path to an imagined freedom. Reading Vollman’s mind we can hear him say, “I stand outside the fence, wondering how soon my friends and I can creep through there again and go far, far away.” We would like to be able to send a telepathic message to Mr. Vollman: “The trip to the land of far, far away is neither the destination nor the journey that you think it is” but he and his fellow travelers will have to learn that for themselves.
Most of “traveling” humanity is using its energy fleeing the present moment—it is kind of a “great escape” spectacle—a mass exodus. The problem that comes to mind with this modern migration is that we don’t know either “what” we are running from or “where” we are going to, although we at times “think” that we know the answers to those questions.
The answer as to why people behave as if they are being pursued by shadowy spectres has been dealt with at length in this and other books in the Simple Reality Project. Our approach in this chapter is to focus specifically on what psychology does or does not say related to the human tendency to place ourselves in a state of perpetual flight, alienated from what is really happening in our lives.
We might think that psychology, the science of mental processes and human behavior, would offer the answer regarding these self-destructive behaviors. Unfortunately it does not because it is an institution that was born and grew up in the same context in which we humans were creating the overall problem behavior itself. In short, psychology is more a part of the problem than it is a part of the solution.
For example, C. G. Jung, who was no mean psychologist, is blocked by both his identification with his Christian religion and the concepts and language of his own Jungian Transpersonal or Depth Psychology. We find Jung unwittingly speaking of The Point of Power Practice which is used to reduce human reactions and to dismantle the conditioning of the false self. “This [is an] act of expiation [choosing response instead of reaction and] is performed by the Paraclete [the Holy Ghost, our inner wisdom]. In other words, The Point of Power Practice is an intuitive behavior, our inner guidance that says, “stay put, no choo choo needed, you have nowhere to go, everything you are seeking is already here in the present moment.”
Jung goes on to say, “The work of salvation [making our life a meditation focusing on the nature of Simple Reality] is intended to save man from the fear of God [projections of the false self].” The benefits of accepting life as it is, and not jumping on board the closest vehicle in order to escape, will reveal our authentic powers of Self-transformation. “One ought not to make oneself out to be more stupid and more unconscious than one really is, for in all other aspects we are called upon to be alert, critical, and self-aware, so as not to fall into temptation, and to “examine spirits” [false-self reactions] who want to gain influence over us and see “whether they are of God.” These “spirits” are, of course, not real but if we are always “on the road” running away from them, refusing to stand and face them, we will never know that.
What is Jung’s assessment as a psychologist of this tendency to escape reality, to resist waking up? This tendency to escapism he said would bring “something like a dissociation between consciousness and the unconscious, an unnatural and even pathological condition, a “loss of soul” such as has threatened man from the beginning of time.” He is describing the current human condition that we found represented on the Amtrak Sunset Limited.
Another way to express the problem from a psycho/spiritual perspective involves bringing in the psyche. “Again and again and in increasing measure he [humankind] gets into danger of overlooking the necessary irrationalities of his psyche [the mind functioning as the center of thought, emotion and behavior and consciously or unconsciously adjusting and relating the body to its social and physical environment], and of imagining that he can control everything by will and reason alone, and thus paddle his own canoe.” When the intellect fails us on our canoe trip we can always jump on Amtrak or a freight train.
The mind and/or the intellect are never fully conscious. They are by definition never in the present moment because the two states are mutually exclusive. In the Now we are fully conscious and awake; when thinking and striving we are asleep.
Deepak Chopra helps us understand why the choo choo’s leaving the present moment are so packed with people. “As a somewhat cynical friend of mine, a psychiatrist, likes to say, ‘You will know a lot about human motivation once you realize one thing: ninety-nine percent of humanity spends ninety-nine percent of their time trying to avoid painful truths.’”
We all have a built-in resistance to admitting our escapist behaviors; we are quiet clever in denying its existence at all. Denial has only exacerbated the end result and by attempting to flee the land of our enslavement we ironically run the wrong direction and end up more deeply unconscious within an increasingly darkening nightmare. So rather than the sometimes painful self-examination, maybe seeing ourselves in the behavior of others will make it easier to have some insights that we can accept, insights that will take root and grow into Self-realization.
The great irony that escapes most of us, as we search the horizon for the next train, is that we are fleeing Paradise. We are running from the very state of mind that contains every comfort, every healing salve for our bleeding soul. If we could close our eyes, allow our breath to calm our nerves and our tendency to reaction, we would experience calmness, a burgeoning joy, a peace of mind, freedom from the illusion of death and hell, and a natural compassion rising in our heart. When did all this endless travel begin? When will it end? We do not know. Or perhaps we do!
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Who Am I? The Second Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Where Am I? The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival