I watched Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” this morning. It was her interview with Michael A. Singer, the author of the book “The Untethered Soul,” which is one of my favorite books. I decided to flip again through my copy of the book to review passages that I had underlined when I read it.

Singer’s premise is that we all carry around an internal “thorn”–that which causes us to react, to feel sensitive, to be upset by things. If we continually work in life to make sure everything we do helps to avoid touching that thorn, we will avoid its pain. Unfortunately, this technique only serves to keep the thorn embedded. Avoidance does not heal.

On p. 61, Singer writes:

Life becomes stagnant when people protect their stored issues. People say things like, “You know we don’t talk about that subject around your father.” There are all these rules about things that are not supposed to happen outside because they could cause disturbance inside. Living like this allows for very little spontaneous joy, enthusiasm, and excitement for life. Most people just go from day to day protecting themselves and making sure nothing goes too wrong….The longer you live like this, the more closed you become.

Personally, there are some very important people in my life who live that way. Around them, I am not allowed to express emotions, feelings, or insecurities because those expressions will cause disturbance or discomfort. Yet for me, the inability to express anything leads me to feel extreme awkwardness. I cannot ask, for example, why they don’t want to talk ever on the phone. I cannot ask what one of them is so angry about. I cannot ask what I could do to mitigate this anger because anger that is not talked about festers but cannot heal. These repressed emotions are their thorns, thorns that have become intractable.

I, too, have my thorns. Singer says the thorns are the times when something happens outside of ourselves that pricks the nerves around the thorn. Someone says something, someone does not communicate with you as you think they should have, someone does not behave as you think they should, and the inner discomfort swells to the point that it is all you can think about. What are my thorns? Feeling inadequate, unsuccessful, as if I missed life’s “train” to the picket fence and the travel trailer. Feeling that my inability to play political games has led to problems with my career aspirations. Wanting to be genuine above all else has cost me.

Do you ever feel this way? Do you know people who go through life avoiding the issues that fester inside of them? Singer maintains that if we are able to notice what causes our thorns to be irritated and take a mental step back to that consciousness behind our everyday consciousness, we can observe the irritation as separate from who we really are and can feel peace. Over time, allowing ourselves to detach from the consciousness that holds that thorn, it will begin to work itself out and eventually be gone.


Desolate land

Rolling through North Dakota on the train, thousands of lonely acres. A few poplar, cottonwood, or scrub trees along the margins of hay fields. Small cattle ponds dot the landscape occasionally. Ducks sit silent waiting for dusk. A waxing moon shines from the southern sky, pink from smoke. Some oil drDesolate Countrysideilling is evidenced by wells and oil storage tanks. The countryside is a storage depot for railroad ties, earth-moving machinery, and cast-off scrap. Rusted-out cars from the 1920s and 30s sit in a ravine, their drivers and passengers long dead and buried in one of the graveyards situated on the barren hills.

I imagine an abandoned building out in the distance with gray-aged wood on its floor and a set of metal salt and pepper shakers standing on a table. Dust covers everything undisturbed. And it’s as if the set is waiting, watching. The winds blow, winter comes, snow filters in through cracks in the ceiling, and still they sit in place. A counter waits for something to be set upon it. Shelves hold tins rusted through, now empty. A spider spins her web in the corner, and everything waits. The earth turns, the wood decays, and the stasis ends. Only dust pours from those shakers now.

There is a kind of sentience in inanimate objects, an awareness, a presence that watches and waits. Perhaps it is molecules, atoms waiting to become a part of their next incarnation. Inanimate objects are not truly inanimate. Atoms are never still. When I look out upon the darkening countryside and feel that it is looking back, that’s where that awareness lives. It lives in lonely country roads, whose road signs reflect the last rays of sunlight. It lives in the paint, yellow and white, striped on the asphalt where no one passes at this time of night. It lives in the red receding taillights of a car fading into the distance. Who is driving that car? What are they thinking about? For what purpose do they cross this land in the dark? Who passed this way before them? Are there still traces of them there? Atoms, molecules blown off by the wind, nestled down in the grasses growing by the road?

Lonely, desolate, yet someone, something stirs out there in the darkness beyond the lighted windows of the train. I don’t believe the universe is as empty as it seems.

Slow time on the train

I’m on my way to Glacier National Park on Amtrak. I could have flown, but why? Riding on the train is so much less stressful than being on a cramped airplane. I have room to move my feet, can get up and walk around, and can even sit somewhere else on the train. Right now, I’m watching the flat Illinois countryside go past, enjoying a light snack without anyone’s elbows against mine

I was spoiled years ago by being able to travel quite a bit by train in Germany. I miss the ubiquity of the trains there. I miss being able to open the windows in a train car. Slow travel should allow you to smell the air of a place as you pass through it.

Still, this is soothing. I have Wi-Fi, I can visit the cafe car if I would like another cup of coffee. This travel experience fits my personality. I read a quotation somewhere that said, “If you’re in a hurry, you’re already dead.” I’m not in any hurry.