I initially thought that this was easily one of the best metaphors I’ve ever come up with, but upon reflection maybe that’s just me being bored of my old ones. This one certainly isn’t as poetic as the ones I’ve used about rivers or trees or ice and water etc., but it is nevertheless quite a tight and helpful analogy.
Let’s start it off by thinking of your lifetime as a hallway. You enter the hallway at birth and exit it at death. Time is distance. The further you move down the hallway the older you get. Simple, right? Add a conveyor belt floor, like those movable sidewalks you see in many large airports. So without you doing anything the hallway will naturally carry you from the entrance door at one end toward the exit door at the other.
On one side a wall is lined with windows, which represent your consciousness–your ability to percieve the universe. And the other is an empty wall. (If you were in a coma for a while, the windows would disappear for a distance.) The empty wall behind you represents the limits of your five senses. Just as you can’t see people’s heat signatures or skeletons when you look at them, whales and snakes respectively can. So while you can perceive an impressive amount of the universe out of what is a relatively small window, you still cannot even hope to look in some directions and thereby you cannot perceive the vast majority of the universe’s infiniteness. You need some snakes and whales to help accomplish that.
The ceiling, floor and window frames—the areas above, below and in front of you—all represent the major beliefs you have that cut you off from the universe. So being a gender might be like a ceiling. The floor is made of the belief in a physical world—the belief that you can’t walk on water or fly. Your perception of how smart you are might be one window frame, and your perception of how likable you are being another. Other smaller, less inhibiting beliefs like your nationality, your race, your colour, your education, your life experience etc. all combine to help complete the frame that shapes your perceptions of the outside world. Those conceptual frames are things that often seem invisible to someone despite their obvious need to exist. People just assume they are shy versus they are making the choice to behave shyly.
The second part of this metaphor deals with the fact that your life is experienced in moments. To represent these moments imagine that as you move down the hallway you’re looking out of the series of aforementioned windows, with each window representing one moment. To be wiser is to move closer to the glass—to take a step forward on the moving sidewalk of life, and thereby bring ourselves closer to removing at least some of the limits on our vision and understanding.
By moving closer to the glass we are able to appreciate more of what’s outside. And people like me or Sydney Banks or Wayne Dyer or Eckhart Tolle are just people who smashed the glass once and went outside for a look at the whole deal. But we couldn’t stay there and we wouldn’t want to. Because once you’re out there you realize that there is simply no way to take it all in at once. You can know it’s there, but you realize that you can’t look everywhere at once even if you don’t have a frame to look out of. And that’s when you surrender.
You stop trying to get out of the building and you realize that your windows—just like everyone else’s—are just a way of filtering the universe. That without that filter, there is no way for you to experience the universe. You are a way for the universe to experience itself. So ultimately it doesn’t really matter which hallway you’re in. Yes, we all see different things, but they’re all hallways and they all contain the same emotional range and the same freedom to choose what to think about what’s outside. After that it doesn’t really matter.
Most of you get lost for two reasons. The first is that you want the big bright-light glass-crashing enlightenment experience when all that you learn by having one is that you never needed one. Besides, it shouldn’t be your goal because making it a goal makes it impossible to achieve because in that state of mind you don’t even exist to need anything, so an enlightened state and a state that has a you in it are mutually exclusive. Secondly, you get lost because you don’t go with the flow. You battle the movement of life. And here’s how:
On the sidewalk of life you can relax and move forward naturally, or you can expend a lot of energy and wear yourself out by walking backwards or forwards and treating the sidewalk like a treadmill. The trick to this treadmill is, you’re not only wasting energy walking ahead of things, you’re also missing the moments you would have experienced had you been present. Because those tick by whether you ran forwards or backwards. The sidewalk is always moving.
If you run backwards you’re only looking out windows you’ve already looked out of. It’s not like the universe outside changes because you’re re-viewing it. There is nothing new to see. You are simply wasting energy moving backwards, against the flow, bouncing up and down from running, distorting your view, all so that you can re-experience an experience you’ve already experienced. And again, the present moment is up there ticking by while you’re running back to the past. No wonder life isn’t going well if you’re not even present for the decisions that life requires.
Now of course, you’re welcome to run back to re-experience anything you want, but I would recommend something awesome. You want to remember that great concert, or that great day with friends, or your wedding—that will likely invigorate your spirit. But most of you spend more of it jogging backwards to look at heartache and loss and betrayal and regrets, and you weaken yourselves by doing that. Can you see how pointless that is? You’re expending energy unnecessarily, all in a bid to turn life into a treadmill where you spend too much of it reinvested in old, unpleasant experiences. You’ve already seen those. All you can do is think differently about them. And it’s not like that breaks the glass.
The motion of running backwards will always distort your view of the past, but take heart, that doesn’t mean you’re entirely lost. Intense study of ourselves does tend to move us closer to the glass. This is what it is to meditate. So while it’s not as good as quietly going with the flow at least it’s not a complete waste. It does help over time in that revisiting those old experiences will cause you to study them ever more closely, and in doing so you will edge closer to the windows and that might cause you to notice some things that you wouldn’t have previously. And that way, when you do decide to relax back into the flow, you will still have the benefit of the broader view that emerges from studying your life so closely.
If you do walk forward or backward, or if you don’t move closer to the glass or smash it open, it’s not like the universe will judge you. Everything just is. Everything is an aspect of the universe. Everything outside, the hallway itself, the windows and their frames, the treadmill/moving sidewalk and you. That’s all one thing: the universe. So stop trying so hard and just accept that every set of windows still gives you the opportunity to be grateful that you get to see anything at all. Because when you reach the end of your hallway you just step into darkness. And that’s when you know the value of experience. Any experience.
In that darkness you experience nothing, and in doing so you understand the value of being able to see out the windows. Any windows. And so you fumble around and grab another door handle and you choose a life to go lead. That’s how you got here to this life. Your birth was your conscious entry into the hallway of windows. At first they were pretty low to the ground and they really limited your view, but over time they rose and you grew and your perspective expanded. Here’s hoping this blog helped it expand even further, in a way that consciously moved you closer to the glass. I also hope it gave you a perspective you feel is rewarding to experience, and that it’s one that will make it easier to more effortlessly move forward in life. Thank you for your time.
Following a childhood accident should have left him dead, Scott McPherson spent his life meditating on thought, consciousness, reality and the self. Seeing the emotional damage done by ego-based overthinking he began dedicating a part of his life to guiding students toward more peaceful and rewarding lives. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, Canada.