Snow White And The Railways

How The Thorn Pricks Us While We Work.

The Subconscious, Part 4.

A Dutch double-decker train

at Utrecht Centraal in the Netherlands

I am fascinated by railways. Their sheer size, weight and the systems that guide them. So what the hell has this to do with a fairy tale? This isn’t me being amateurish, or demonstrating that I have finally lost my marbles. Fairy tales have very real meaning, and the tale of Snow White is no different.

If you know the tale,  Snow White pricks her finger and goes to sleep. Any suitor who wishes to marry her must come to her and rouse her with a kiss. Only so few of them even found where she lay. It meant that first weeds then thorns grew all around. There was nobody to tend the grounds after all.

The prince who finally reached her had to hack his way through this dense thicket. You might ask why do this? Again imagine yourself as a lonely prince dreaming of a wife and children. It cost him a great deal of effort, but it was worth the struggle for the reward of putting his mouth to the soft lips of a dreaming princess. The sheer joy of kissing someone so beautiful ought to be enough in itself, and remember they lived happily ever after!

The Power Of An Express At Your Fingertips.

I don’t write about railways just to tell you the technical details of a VIRM – the enormous double deckers that are the workhorse of the Dutch Railway network. This is about the people who use and run them – and that means you too. Because the sort of thinking that runs railways is found everywhere in our modern world. What’s more, it has had some tragic consequences. And that very tragedy is portrayed by the thorn that pricked poor Snow White’s finger.

No small part of ‘railway thinking’ is that it misses out on so much that makes life wonderful. Just as Snow White missed out on so much as she slept. It is understandable that that railways run to strict timetables. Of the eight or ten trains that pass my house each hour the timings are strict. Remember that this railway is one of Rotterdam’s arteries with trains arriving from as far away as Romania.

Now when you’re driving trains according to some abstract notion of seconds and hours – there are things you’re not doing. Just think that my local train to Utrecht does over 90mph in the five mile stretch between Driebergen and Bunnik. There’s no room for mistakes and the driver’s vigilance is essential. That very concentration on the track ahead of you means you’re not looking anywhere else.

A steam train ambles through

the picturesque Harz mountains in Germany

The driver of this express is travelling at speeds that do not allow him to look elsewhere as his grandfather might. In those long gone days driving a small steam engine along a bumbling branch line was a very different affair. There was time to gaze out on the bluebells and streams, wave to people working in the fields.

There are many people who spend long periods of their life acting as interfaces between some computer system and the machine they’re controlling. Sure it’s essential work in our day and age. Only it’s not making full use of their capacities, is it? When moving a lever that makes a seven hundred ton vehicle glide to a stop becomes second nature, it means you’re not thinking about it any more.

Which is the big clue here:

Where Snow White’s Fairy Tale Has Relevance In Our Lives.

Because I’m talking about the lizard brain. Well, it’s a little more than that, but lizard brain will do well enough for a description here. The point is that the manipulation of the machine has become subconscious – a habit. Only in needing to be constantly vigilant for long periods of time means that this too becomes a habit. When consciousness is narrowed in this way for long periods of time, there will be elements of the brain that are not being used. And as part of our natural make-up the lizard brain will kick in and switch them off.

Which is our dilemma! This is a gradual process, and usually it’s not something we’re aware of. The lizard brain exists so that when we want to get a beer from the fridge, we get up and go. There’s no thinking “I need to place the weight on my left foot first”. You stand up. The next thing you know the cold metal tin is cold on your palm and there’s that refreshingly bitter taste crossing your tongue.

I discussed much of this in my piece “Letting The Lizard Drive”. Only this is to take us a little further. Because whilst the lizard brain is both important to our ability to be human – it isn’t under our conscious control. The lizard brain is a part of us that is automatic in a very real way. Those parts it touches are pricked by the thorn in the fairy tales. Believe me when I say there is immense wisdom in those old folk tales.

Because whilst the task of the lizard brain is to deal with the unnecessary parts of our lives – there is a danger. A very real danger. The lizard brain comes with no warning lights, there’s no alarm or second chance when it’s about to switch something off. It’ll just set that part of the brain to idle.

And that’s it.

With the way we run our modern society, we open ourselves to the dangerous side of the lizard brain. As I’ve mentioned, the lizard switches off anything that doesn’t get used. We live in a society geared to a way of working that is both sedentary and repetitive. From universities to bus drivers. Yet it is the very thing the lizard brain is there to help us with!

Today, it is all too easy for it to swallow up things that by rights should be conscious. Our very focus has led us to lose our perspective on life. The quiet creep of the lizard has nibbled away at the edges of our consciousness. Meaning that what once acted as a useful tool has become insidious. Poisonous.

Awakening Slumbering Snow White.

Those parts of us once pricked by the thorn will slumber. Touched by the Lizard as it were. If you want them back, you must fight through thickets of thorn bushes to awaken Snow White again.

This is the other side; recovering what by rights should be yours. It is as if you open a long forgotten door and your dim candle throws some sinister shadows in the darkness of the attic beyond.

If you find this unsettling, take heed. I have mastered these through long years of practice. You can say this is arrogance. Only bear with me and you will see that I am not jealous of my knowledge in the manner of some cobwebbed professor. Or a professional caught in the headlights like a rabbit. People who use complex terminology to guard their dusty hoard.

I speak from direct experience of retrieving lost abilities. This is a clear demonstration of the things I understand that you may come to understand them too. Remember that knowledge follows understanding. What’s more, this has brought me immense joy and wonder. A wealth that nobody can take from me.

To be honest it’s not that hard when you get the knack – only this is the twist in the tale: the hard bit is knowing it’s there at all! Knowing what you’ve lost is a job that you and only you can do. But be warned: there are no fixed guidelines for this, no rules. This is your journey and yours alone. All I can do is tell you the signs to look out for. Only here, you are looking for its footprints, the Lizard is elusive. It is your subconscious and by definition you can’t see it. At least you know it’s there now and something of the form it takes.


The Subconscious: Links To Other Parts In This Series.

Part 1 Doctor Jazz, Düsseldorf.
Part 2 Letting The Lizard Drive!
Part 3 The Lizard Brain Meets Its Match: Brian’s Fiat Panda.
Part 4 Snow White And The Railways.
Part 5 Enemies In The Boardroom.  
Part 6 The Clock Ticks: The Unconscious Threshold.    (Published on my private blog)
Part 7 Milena Sees Witchcraft Everywhere.
Part 8 Frustration!
Part 9 What’s On Mina’s Mind Today?
Part 10 A First Peek At Autism  (Published on my private blog)

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