The Slow Train

I find myself a window seat and settle in for the long journey to come. This train stops at every station. People get on. People get off. Everyone is smiling. No one is in a hurry. There is plenty of time to move around the carriages, to enjoy the adventure, to be happy. I look out of the window and notice a lake that has frozen over. Two small figures glide across it, their scarves streaming behind them like a picture on a postcard. I inhale the musty scent of the carriage and examine the worn, faded seats. I imagine those who were here before me, and those who will come. I turn my gaze inward. I ask myself how I spent so many anxious hours over the years just waiting to get off the train, that I didn’t let myself notice, inhale, examine or imagine anything at all. But now I understand. Taking the slow train isn’t a waste of time. It allows you time.

Introspection makes my head spin, so I make my way to the buffet car. Perhaps I will meet a smiling person with whom I can strike up an unhurried conversation. I know I am almost there because a whiff of sausage rolls and hot chocolate hits my nostrils. The conductor is standing by the coffee machine, waiting for his cappuccino. He drums his fingers on the counter while the waitress is caught up in a flurry of coffee beans, milk jugs and an industrial-sized machine. Another passenger bounds over to the counter, pushes in front of me and demands an almond piccolo: “Make it quick. I’m in a rush,” he barks at the waitress. He does not make eye contact with me, although I am looking right at him. He is not smiling.

I glance out of the window. The scenery is changing faster than I expected. We are already at the next stop, and now the next. This is confusing. Why is everything moving so fast? Why do I not get the time to enjoy the view? Why isn’t anyone smiling?

“Excuse me, Sir,” I ask the conductor. “I thought this was the slow train? We seem to be going incredibly fast.” The conductor looks up. His eyes are piercing.

“You’re in the wrong carriage then, love.”
“I don’t understand,” I say, hypnotised by his gaze.
He puts his coffee cup to his lips, throws his head back and takes a big gulp.
“Slow carriages are on the other end of the train.”
I blink, then shake my head, hoping this will help me understand his explanation. It doesn’t.
“How can they be different, on the same train?”
The conductor picks up his ticket machine.

“We’re all on the same train,” he chuckles. “But the journey you take is up to you.” He calls over his shoulder as he walks away, “Choose your carriage wisely!”

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, or actual events is purely coincidental but probably worth analysing. 🙂

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Running to stand still

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If your life was a U2 song, what song would it be?

I was on my way to a yoga class the other day. When I say ‘on my way’ I mean I was rushing from work to get there on time. Run-for-the-bus kind of rushing. When I got off the bus, I ran some more, cursed the traffic lights for operating to schedule, and didn’t make eye contact with anyone en route for fear it may impact my pace.

I bounded up the stairs to the yoga studio and presented my dishevelled self at the desk, 3 minutes before the class was scheduled to begin.

You made it,” my instructor observed. The calm of his voice, the smell of incense in the studio and the feeling of my bare feet on the floor suddenly felt like the blissful opposite of my chaotic mind.

And that’s when it struck me that my whole journey to yoga was counter-productive to yoga itself. I was frazzled, self-absorbed and irritated. It was most un-yogi-like behaviour. And it certainly was not cancelled out by then laying my hot-and-bothered body onto the mat and taking a few deep breaths.

I was, literally, running to stand still.

That U2 song, says Wikipedia, is about heroin addiction (so please forgive my interpretation) but the paradox is familiar. Race to yoga. Stress before Savasana. Manic before mindfulness.

Another instructor once suggested that yoga is not what you do on the mat – it is what you do all the time. It is in the breath, it is in the calm, it is in the pause. Yoga is aimed at developing harmony in the body, mind and environment.

Oh dear. Then I must be a terrible yogi.

Still, isn’t the alternative worse? Not going, not having that time on the mat, not giving myself the opportunity to breathe or pause, even if that time is sandwiched between the noise, the Rattle and Hum of everyday life?

You made it.” Perhaps that was all that mattered. I was there. I was present. I was doing the poses (some in Mysterious Ways), and I was observing the pauses. The off-the-mat practice will be an ongoing one. How to find internal calm, despite (or through) external chaos. But for now, in this moment, I’m ok.

When I got home, my 5-year-old asked if I’d been to yoga.
“Yes,” I said, wondering if my face was exuding the glow of calm and harmony.
“Did you win?” He is used to the footballers and netballer of the family coming home from matches declaring scores and results. I had to smile at his question.
“Yes!” I decided. “In yoga, everyone wins.”

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd