Distractions – don’t let them rob your life of time

“Happiness can only be found if you can free yourself of all other distractions.”

Saul Bellow

Recently, I found myself stepping back in time – riding aboard a railway train pulled by a steam engine locomotive built in the year 1925. One look at the lead car was enough to reveal its age – years of service, engine emissions and no doubt neglect weathering the appearance of this once majestic engineering marvel.

Yet even at 90 years old, the locomotive had little trouble pulling the passenger cars behind it – seeming almost effortless as it made its way down the long stretch of track.

I was riding on the Cumbres & Toltec scenic railroad – America’s longest and highest narrow gauge railroad. It was originally conceived as a way to take advantage of the booming mining districts in southwestern Colorado in 1880 – eventually opening up northern New Mexico and southern Colorado to mass populations.

Standing in an open rail car, I was immediately impressed with the picturesque landscape in front of me. Miles and miles of open prairies, hill sides and vegetation which seemed almost untouched by the civilized world we inhabit.

As the sound of pressurized steam violently escaped through the chimney of the locomotive, I marveled at my current means of travel. This was the only viable transportation for those looking to make their way across the country and through this mountainous terrain decades ago, which astonished me now experiencing it for myself.

We passed log cabins completely isolated from society, and no doubt living much of their life off the grid – surrounded by clear streams, wildflowers and forest animals who were considered your “neighbors”.

I reveled in the simplicity before me – the untouched landscapes tucked away from the rest of the world like a magical land few would ever have the privilege to call home. While I was impressed by the natural splendor all around me, I also felt a slight resentment – knowing that at some point my train would yet again be pulling into the station, and as my feet touched the rough pavement below my reality would return.

It was an amazing experience into the pathways our ancestors traveled so many years ago, and provided me with a bit of clarity I’m sad to say is easily replaced by the burdens of life.

In today’s modern day, life is filled with distractions. While oftentimes our mind and body become conditioned to them if practiced for a great deal of time, it’s not until you pull yourself away from your daily routine that you discover how much of one’s life is stolen by these insignificant trivialities.

This year, when I turned 40, I realized that my mind and body had become more in tune to the distractions all around me – they were everywhere it seemed. To-do-lists permeate every facet of my day (be it at home or at work) and weigh on me, often without an easy resolution.

So many of us are living a life without focus – going through the motions of our days (involuntarily at times), wondering what’s the purpose and meaning behind them.

Adam Hochschild once remarked, “Work is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.”

Time IS short. None of us possess a crystal ball into the future, and as sullen as it might sound, tomorrow really could be our last day here on earth. You just don’t know. To allow the distractions of life to keep us from achieving true happiness seems a waste of that time.

Simplicity. If only our lives could be filled with the peace and tranquility that often comes with a life of minimalism. If only we weren’t worried about prestige in our careers, material possessions to impress our neighbors, and a fear of failure defining our character, then maybe we’d be able to achieve even a small piece of the simple life. Sounds like a nice place to live doesn’t it?

I’ve always loved trains, but never thought riding on one at the age of 40 would refocus my attention on where I am and where I’m going. To stop and make sure that I’m happy with things in my life, rather than just comfortable. To seize new opportunities and take chances in order to find fulfillment and a sense of simplicity.

Zig Ziglar once said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”

I guess the question is how will YOU choose to spend yours?