• Maggie Wheeler

Train of Thought

I love trains. I always have. Even today, with all the options for travel, trains continue to fascinate with their mystique. When I travel the long Toronto – Montreal corridor, I never drive anymore (hate the 401 highway). I always take the train. Especially in the winter with its demanding weather, riding the train is much preferred with its food and drink and safety as opposed to taking your life in your hands with the 401’s megatraffic.

Last fall, I finally rode VIA Rail’s Train No. 1: The Canadian. It travels back and forth between Toronto and Vancouver over the Great Lakes, across the prairies and through the Rocky Mountains. For three nights and four days, you can see parts of Canada you never would otherwise—in the comfort of your berth overnight, the viewing car by day and the dining car for wonderful meals.

Recently, I took the train round-trip from Brockville to Brantford to visit family. With a stopover in Toronto, I had two days of travel, about six hours each. I also had delicious time to think.

I did bring things to do. I had my tablet to work on, a book to read and a notebook to jot down ideas. All around me, people were busy on their devices getting work done. I really did mean to join them. But as usual, I settled in to look at trees and towns go by. And for the first time in too long, I indulged in random thought.

Random thought is becoming too random in our lives these days. Aside from short breaks we might take with a glass of wine to gaze out the window, we are busy, busy, busy. And our minds run like hamsters on well-oiled wheels. We tend to dismiss the benefit of random thought, feeling we should be producing something. Sometimes it’s as depressing as just being too well trained by our cell phones (the “mini casinos”) to need something always distracting or amusing us.

The two days of train travel I built in on purpose to enjoy as part of my short vacation. I’m glad I did. Each time, I sat back and just watched the panorama go by outside while my internal hamster did the wheel. I didn’t really think about anything in particular. I let my mind go where it wanted, giving it several hours of unstructured thought (except for drink and dinner orders…). Eventually, the hamster stopped running and got off the wheel. It enjoyed roving the open area of the cage and sat contentedly chewing on little things. It was the most relaxed I have been in some time. I arrived each time with new thoughts and ideas popping up randomly from the depths of my subconscious. Good ideas. Great connections to make in the new book.

And it all came through a lack of effort, rather than the usual perseverance. That’s worth thinking about, too.

We are planners and workers. Our midlife status puts us in a new place: part gearing down from the first half with its traditional path, and part gearing up for the second half with its undiscovered country where rules are spilling out the windows and the horizon is mostly of our choosing. Such a status means planning and working is vital, but it also needs our willingness to include the act of doing nothing, regular visits to the power of the nothing and its open thinking being the something that we’re doing.

I took the train and traveled into my thoughts at the same time. Relinquishing control and focus, I tapped into creativity buried under the hamster wheel. I also, unexpectedly, accessed the wellspring of perspective, calm and contentment that lies beneath the churning waters of daily life. I intend to make this a monthly initiative, even without the travel.

Take the train. Take the real train for a greener mode of travel, a nice break and quality down time. Take the train of thought, regardless, making time in your life for the something of nothing.

The train of thought is a train with an unknown destination. And that’s the journey we all deserve right now.

Talk next week,


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