“There is a train that leaves the station,
Heading for your destination.”
When I was away on my hols, I went on a little train on the Bure Valley Railway. (It would have been a steam train, but the hot weather has meant steam was sensibly replaced by diesel). In the tiny cars, a discussion was struck up; do you prefer to go forwards or backwards?
My mum and I were in agreement that backwards was better. We find things coming towards us at speed to be quite stressful. When things come past and then disappear into the distance you have a little more time to focus on looking at them. It’s a far more peaceful journey to travel backwards for me and mum.
Whereas my brother-in-law was adamantly the opposite. He couldn’t bear to not know what was approaching. By facing forward he could anticipate the dangers ahead.
Did you know that generally you are far safer in a crash if you are facing backwards? (As a passenger obviously. I don’t recommend travelling backwards as a driver unless you are rowing a boat). Mainly because of the way we are cushioned by our seat as momentum keeps us travelling backwards. But I wonder if it’s also partly because if we don’t know what’s coming, we’re more relaxed. One of the reasons people get whiplash injuries in particular is because they are tense and it’s the muscles bracing against the impact which cause the strain. Sleeping passengers are less likely to get whiplash because their muscles are relaxed and don’t tense against the movement.
However, we spend the vast, VAST majority of our time as passengers in non-crashing vehicles. I pondered whether it says something about our personalities whether we prefer to go forwards or backwards. My mum and I are naturally laid back people who are willing to go with the flow. We are happy to let things happen, especially things that are out of our control. When we travel backwards, we accept that we have no control over the consequences of the train. We are just there for the ride. This is not backed by any research, this is purely my musings!
Us humans generally have a deep-seated desire for control. It motivates us to improve our situations and to be more productive, and when we feel competent it improves our sense of wellbeing. However we don’t like the sense that someone else is controlling us, and an excessive need for control can be detrimental to our mental and physical health. Those who require high levels of control are more prone to feeling angry or frustrated, more likely to take higher risks and to sacrifice the things they love when making decisions. They can have higher blood pressure as a consequence.
And oddly enough, those who feel a need for control are more likely to be conned into the illusion of control. It’s easier to persuade someone who desires control that you’ve given them that control when you haven’t really. (A lot of recent British politics has preyed on this fact).
The Bhagavad Gita, which I studied during my yoga teacher training, deals with the issue of control. Arjuna is counselled by Krishna, who points out to him that there are circumstances beyond his control and that he cannot change those situations by dwelling on them.
“That one is dear to me who runs not after the pleasant or away from the painful, grieves not, lusts not, but lets things come and go as they happen.”The Bhagavad Gita, trans Eknath Easwaran
This doesn’t mean sitting back and doing nothing. The Gita also says, “One who shirks action does not attain freedom; no one can gain perfection by abstaining from work.” This is about being aware of what we can change and what we can’t. There are some trains which you cannot drive, no matter how much you might try. You can only control your own actions and reactions. You can only drive your own train.