I’ve been mulling over the metaphor of life as a train recently – for maybe the last 4 months or so. I’m not sure what prompted it, but it came to me one day that the journey of life is like getting on and off a train, at various stops, on the way up a mountain. Maybe I was reflecting on my life and how it has taken twists and turns, stagnated or remained at points or stages for different lengths of time, then moved sideways, sometimes backwards, but mainly forwards. The more I thought about this the more I fleshed out the idea and have come to quite like it – having shared the idea with some friends it seemed to make sense to them and proved valuable.
The basic premise is we start at a point – birth. We end at a point – death.
Two separate stations.
To get from one to another we board a train to move forwards for the first few years of our life. As a child, growing into a young adult, we have lots of stops (or stations) where we get off the train, explore, walk around that space – and then get back onto the train to be taken forwards. Change happens at such a rapid rate for the first 20-25 years of our life (for most) that we barely stay the same – the constant being the train we are on, with change happening at station to station (think about teenage years, finding a group of friends / interest / music that becomes your thing for some time) where you stay here until you move forwards / backwards / sidewards to the next stage (or station).
Where this became more interesting and relevant for me was thinking about how this applied to adulthood. People get to a stage (or station) in their life and get off their train. They then stay at this stage for a very short time, medium, long or forever. The more I thought about this I then was curious what made people move on, shift, get back on the train and look to take a rider to the next stop. Alternatively what prevented people from leaving where they had got off, what prevented them from moving forwards rather than just getting stuck at a place / destination / stage. This is where I then imagined the train to be going up a mountain, going steadily higher and higher as you moved from station to station to reach the top (if you were that fortunate) at some stage.
One of the prompts I had was a memory, which really stuck in my head, of an old boyfriend of my sister’s back when she was 21. We went out for her birthday and I was struck by his behaviour (he was in his 40’s) and I remember thinking really clearly – why is he still behaving as if he was in his 20’s, what was he looking for, what was he chasing and I also remember being struck be a desire to not be in a similar place when I reached his age. I know that life is never that simple and there are a myriad of reasons why people get locked into a cycle, or left at a station unable to leave. Equally I find that fascinating and suspect that mostly what underpins this is a drive to be happy.
What I can’t get away from is what is driving this desire to be happy at a place that is stuck in time, a station you are unable to leave. I wonder how easy it is for people to examine their day to day existence and look at how change in routine or habit can also lead to forward progress – if they are stuck in a place that isn’t healthy (or their chase for happiness is found in unhealthy habits and routine). Part of this will be wrapped up in a lack of awareness, part of it in avoidance of discomfort, part of it in the uncertainty in how to change. For most people they can stay at this station for some time – however it seems to usually end in unhappy, unhealthy choices, which is sadly ironic as they are in a place looking for the one thing (happiness) that they are failing to secure.
The people who I have seen maintain the best long term happiness are the ones who are able to get back onto the train, move forwards to a new station or stage in their life, leaving what was before behind and looking for new going forwards. Not always making huge changes, as the train or themselves is still the constant, but being able to embrace change and learn how to move forward on the train, up the mountain to future stations leading to a more settled existence.