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2024 / April

Slow Train Coming

There’s a slow train comin’ up around the bend

The Retune Blog - 26th April 2024

Have you ever seen one of those programmes with a huge train transporting goods. Then they come across something on the line and they need to stop, but it takes an age and you’re left wondering whether it can stop in time. When such a vehicle is on the move, the amount of effort and energy needed to stop it is tremendous.

In Bob Dylan’s apocalyptic song, Slow Train Coming, there are a number of life metaphors drawn comparing the direction and force of a loaded train slowly chugging to its inevitable destination and how we live our lives.

They say lose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions. They talk about a life of brotherly love, show me someone who knows how to live it … the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency.

Dylan skillfully highlights how there is often a thinly veiled presentation of value and care in human behaviour which may look genuine and altruistic, but in which in reality is self-serving. The song addresses this from a number of angles, always returning to the metaphor of the slow unstoppable train. Yet there is also a glimmer of hope in the song:

I don't care about economy, I don't care about astronomy. But it sure do bother me to see my loved ones turning into puppets.

This glimmer of hope is one of refocusing; what really matters to us? And, when reunited with what matters, how will we change from being puppets to actors taking back control of our own journey?

This got me thinking about some research I was recently doing around cognitive dissonance. Within this concept is the idea that psychological pain is often caused by the gap between our values (or ideals) and our behaviours (or actions). In effect, the pain is caused by us becoming puppets to society's expectations rather than us becoming agents of our own values and beliefs.

Within the cognitive dissonance literature many of the observed responses include us doing things like attempting to  justify us not living according to our own values, or trying to adjust our values to our behaviours. But what if we took seriously this line from the song:

… without a doubt, have to quit your mess and straighten out …

Rather than take the easy option and jump on the train and end up at its destination, perhaps our discomfort is a great prompt for us to decide to stop the train and start heading in a different direction. Now that sounds to me very Dylan-esq.

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Founder and Director of Metanoeo CIC and Metanoeo Coaching. Working with individuals, communities and business to co-create #wellbeing4all through life coaching, resources for living life well and training and supporting life coaches.


2 May 2024