So few people simply board the train and sit. The young woman opposite holds her MacDonald’s breakfast pinned between her left palm and little finger as she slides in. The remaining fingers and right hand shovel in hash browns, and organise an iPod, getting the headphones correct, and choosing a tune. Then she riffles through her bag, constructing some kind of order as she munches the final mouthful, wipes her lips, and crumples the breakfast bag into a corner. After several kilometres she has subsided into some kind of stillness, although every so often, she ramps up the volume so that I can hear the snare-drum-tinny of some favourite song, and even the music.
The man across the aisle has a pack sufficient for four days walking out bush. Inside the pack are two large manila folders stapled into makeshift envelopes. He has a supermarket bag hung from the frame. Diligently he pulls handfuls of cash-register receipts from one of the folders and inspects each one. Most are being screwed up and shoved down into the plastic bag. He stacks some the seat between his legs, and after collecting a little pile, carefully slides it into the other manila envelope. He has hundreds of receipts. I am guessing he is going to see his tax agent at lunch time. People getting on and off the train constantly interrupt him, forcing him to crouch over his collection to stop it being bumped onto the floor.
Other people are ceaselessly texting, taking and making phone calls, and checking screens. The two teenagers three seats down seem to be talking nonstop to each other, often at the same time. Very few of us just sit. We have become desperate to keep our minds occupied. I remember a friend and I trying to explain to a town friend what you think about on a tractor. Roger couldn’t understand what we farm kids did when we spent eight or ten hours going in circles around a paddock, at little more than walking pace. I once spent 12 hours a day for a whole week, and had not finished the one paddock.
One of the secrets of life is to learn to contemplate. Contemplation is more than day dreaming, something at which I am excellent. Contemplation watches what goes past, both in the physical world, and in the eye of the mind, and remains aware. Contemplation does not become captured by the imagination, descending into a bad temper as grievances are re-run and nurtured. Nor does it simply escape into fantasy worlds where the troubles of today are left behind. It is always enough awake to recognise the flight into fantasy, or the descent into self pity, or the return into re-runs of what should have been. It watches, notices, and considers.
Contemplation mulls over what it has seen on the faces on the train, much as it turns over and examines a shell collected on the beach, or replays an incisive line from a book. It considers its own place in the world. It grows a slow wisdom, built on the secure foundation of patient observation and enjoyment of the world. It is a kind of prayer, looking for deeper patterns and meanings beyond the distractions of the immediate. It braves the distresses which well up during silence and stillness. It sits in the sun, thinking its own thoughts, mapping the more real world which lies beneath all the froth and noise.
Contemplation trusts that one day there will be some clarity. It trusts enough to live without a full answer, or an immediate fix. Some things become clear. Others are left, re-considered occasionally, until a place in the jigsaw of life becomes available.
Andrew says: Thanks, Keith. Go well.