There’s a story about Meher Baba. He was crossing the United States by train, and when the train stopped in Santa Fe, he suddenly got up from his seat, climbed down off the train, and walked toward the center of town. At a certain corner, there was an old Indian man standing, leaning up against the side of a building. Meher Baba walked up to him, and they looked into each other’s eyes for a few seconds. Then Meher Baba turned around, walked back to the station, got onto the train, and left. He said, “Well, that takes care of my work for this trip.”
Now all that may just be incredible showbiz — I mean, if he’s playing at that level, he could certainly have done it all on another plane and skipped the walk to town. But it’s a great story — and it’s possible that that was, in fact, what Meher Baba’s trip had been all about. How would we know?
Gradually, as our perspective deepens, we begin to experience our own lives in the context of a wider purpose. We begin to look at all our melodramas and our desires and our sufferings, and instead of seeing them as events happening within a lifetime bounded by birth and death, we begin experiencing them as part of a much vaster design. We begin to appreciate that there is a wider frame around our lives, within which our particular incarnation is happening.
I was on board the Taj Express train bound for Agra, with a stop at Mathura where I would get off. Traveling by train in India is full of rich lessons. The trains go slowly, express or not, and we moved at a prehistoric pace, the countryside creeping by, palm tree by palm tree, until I wanted to open the window and scream. But then something began to shift. Rather than resist the slowness and count the minutes, I told myself a little story. “This trip is going to go on forever,” I said inwardly. “This present moment will never end. I’ve been on this train my entire life, and will never, ever get off. Now what?”
Meditating on this story, I began to surrender into the rhythms and speed of the train, looking out the window at the passing images without the anger of moments before. My attention fixed upon a young woman in a field; she was wearing a colorful sari and walking along a path by herself, in one of those middle-of-nowhere places, a large clay jug balanced on her head, her undulating gait allowing her head to remain still as she moved. She was close enough for me to see her eyes, which were underlined with black kohl. She wore a pink hibiscus flower behind her ear and silver bracelets on both wrists.
To my eyes, she was like a Gauguin figure, caught in an action that would never end, her past and future filled in by imagination. As my train moved slowly, purposefully forward, covering the passengers with coal dust, the woman moved more slowly still along a path that extended in both directions, out of sight, seemingly without end. Although she was only in view for half a minute, her existence seemed to penetrate me, forming a profound impression. I was both attracted and repelled — attracted in the part of me that yearned to slow down, to move to the rhythms of earth and sky, the seasonal cycles of planting and harvest, the coming and going of generations; repelled in the part of me raised in the West, accustomed to material life and great stimulation. In that moment, I saw these two aspects in stark relief, and wondered which of these parts was actually “me.”