B efore I share more, let me give you a hint about what this post is all about. The ‘Mystery Train’ is memory, an immortal line of carriages full of all the people you’ve ever met, never met, thought of, know now, and will meet again – and they’re all just waiting for you to sit down for a chat. So climb onboard and settle in for a little ride on the Mystery Train, as we’ll explore the roots of story, character, and experience.
The Play’s the Thing
With a tip o’ the quill to our favorite Danish Prince, the idea of ‘Play’ is what drives the Mystery Train. Before we’ve reached an age where we acquire ‘Memories’ that stick, we play, creating sandboxed experiences to flex our imaginations and sculpt the sand castles of our future selves. As we grow older, we add our growing collection of experiences and concrete beliefs to our castles, and begin the process of hardening our newly structured ‘idea’ of reality. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the simple fact that ‘hardening’ is an illusion: An animated Death Mask. We may think of ourselves as solid beings, ego made flesh, but we are so much more, and when we choose flexibility, we choose Play. And by play, I mean the act of opening yourself up to the intuitive flow of the moment, and allowing your creative instincts to take center stage.
M emory speaks through us in action & deed, even when we are completely unaware of it’s presence. Have you ever experienced moments when you realize that you just sounded, or acted, like one of your parents? Yes, Virginia, past can be prologue, you’re living it every day. If you choose to stay in the moment and remain present to it’s magnificent breadth, you can work creative miracles. Awareness is the key to unlocking how memory works through us, allowing us the flexibility to play each moment into being.
The Voice of Pure Imagination
I mentioned in previous posts that I’m a film brat; a third generation filmmaker who grew up around studio lots, and fortunate enough to meet some truly amazing industry pioneers. I was in my teens when I met Orson Welles for the first time, and remember asking his advice on the best way to learn the craft. He thought about it for a moment, gave me that insouciant ‘Harry Lime’ smile, and quipped ‘Apprentice in every department and learn how to use the tools and speak the language; the rest is pure imagination.’ I received similar advice from other filmmakers, but his last words nailed it for me, ‘The rest is pure imagination.’ Orson always lead with creativity, and his imagination flourished thanks to his lifetime of travel on the Mystery Train. You can feel the pull of his Creative Gravity in every performance & directorial flourish, and warm your soul on the sublime creativity radiating from him. Now that I’m older, every time I watch him act I’m reminded of the small boy who weathered the death of his mother, his father’s alcoholism, and the rootless life of a budding artist to bravely seek the truth of his creative voice – and what a voice.
Y our Mystery Train shapes your Voice, and if you are courageous enough to accept those memories without judgement, this shaping will build a deep resonance into all the ways you create & communicate. It’s why Orson Welles was such a artistic powerhouse; and also why he struggled with food & alcohol for most of his life. What he accepted, he owned – what he rejected, owned him.
Consciousness, Memory & Ownership
Time is a slippery beast, a trickster, and while we’re Rip Van Winkling our way through life, it’s ticking off the years waiting impatiently for us to arrive at our final earthly destination, but consciousness is timeless. It may be tethered to our bodies, but it doesn’t run on body clocks. Consciousness spans past, present & future, and enables us to connect a universe of additional cars to our Mystery Train and benefit from their ancestral & imaginal passengers.
Ownership determines how we flow memory to shape the present. When you ‘own’ a memory, you are seeing it completely, letting your consciousness absorb it without the dark filters of judgement or justification. In previous posts I discussed how creative flow works, and the same process applies here – flowing memory releases creative energy and expands your consciousness. If you disown memories by allowing your judgements to block their energy flow, they will stunt your creativity, and give them power over your present and future actions.
T rue ownership is not a ‘small i’ choice, it represents a tacit acknowledgement that you are Everything, and Everything is you – stunning combination of energy, matter and consciousness. Listen to this wonderful Jack Kornfield talk, he get’s it, and so will you, if you haven’t already. Own the memory of existence, and you can accomplish anything.
Van Go, Go, Go
Vincent Van Gogh painted ‘Railway Carriages’ in 1888, during an artistically volitile period that produced his most powerful works. There is a vibrantly syncopated energy to it, like a lost Beethoven Symphony waiting for the perfect notes to complete it: Our notes. Memory is story, and story is memory; a timeless light that illuminates the ‘hidden’ parts of our lives that are demanding our attention. Heraclitus said ‘It is hard to fight with one’s heart’s desire, for it will pay with soul for what it craves.’ Van Gogh and Welles spent a turbulent lifetime trying to release the energy of the memories that they paid in soul for. It made for magnificent art, and is the most precious gift that one human can give to another. The heady truth of a struggle whose mystery is left for you to own & resolve.
W orking your way through difficult memories releases an atom smashing infusion of creative energy that can fuel all your pursuits, and free your consciousness to soar into new vistas. Re-invention is really just the process of acknowledgement; of accepting those magnificent parts of yourself that you’ve shut away. And don’t worry, your art, craft and life won’t suffer – suffering and pain don’t create the work – consciousness & creativity do. Look at it this way, consciousness will flow you the story that you need to tell regardless of your painful resistance, because it’s processes, artistic or otherwise, are it’s path. When you release the pain you carry, you’re just making it easier for the complete story to flow. So flow on my friend!
You are Drawn to what Draws You
My dear friend Jimmy Capobianco is an amazing animator, artist & storyteller who’s worked on some of the most beloved animated films of the last two decades, and was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar for his story work on Pixar’s ‘Ratatouille.’ He also sketched this wistful portrait of yours truly when we were struggling CalArts grads. Jimmy is a fearless soul explorer and master creative spirit who has an intuitive understanding of the power of the Mystery Train. What’s his secret? His innate ability to observe & record experience without filters, or judgement. Jimmy spent thousands of hours sketching his world before he stepped foot in an animation studio, and his gentle passion for the power of creativity taught me that openness, awareness & persistence creates the synchronicity of opportunity & action. When I say ‘You are drawn to what draws you,’ his example is at the forefront of my mind. When you are fully open to experience & memory – the people, places & things you gravitate to – you are drawing their stories into consciousness. When you draw their stories into consciousness, they draw you into creative action, because ALL creative action is reciprocal.
T he secret to success in life is confidence. If you think of yourself as a lonely figure on a platform waiting for a train that never seems to arrive, you’re living a distorted ‘Snapshot,’ not a true story. Sleepers awake! No matter how alone you feel, the truth of the world is here to set you straight with a Confident reminder that you are already onboard, in command, and ready for action.
1. Gimme Some Steam – The Mystery Train is memory, and play is the steam that powers it! It fills your world with tears, laughter, wisdom & positive energy, whether you’re aware of it, or not, and is the essential conveyance of human consciousness. So keep playing, it’ll take you to destinations you never knew were in you.
2. Car Hopping – Free your consciousness to hop those cars and seek out the passengers & memories that resonate. It’ll give you shelter from your ego storm and fire up your imagination, so you can color your world with Fierce Perceptions, and soak up the creative meme-ories that inspire confidence.
3. Sit & Listen – As I’ve said in previous posts, attention is action, so be loving and kind to yourself by taking the time to sit & listen. And I don’t just mean to your own thoughts, but to every memory on the train. This way you can transform any painful experience into a life affirming story of wisdom & self knowledge.
4. Connecting the Lines – You are guiding your train into new territory every time you transfer memory into action, and boarding new passengers in the process. It reminds me of the Millionaire’s party car in Preston Sturgis’ brilliant screwball comedy, ‘The Palm Beach Story’ where Joel McCrea meets the man who eventually finances his dream project. Serendipity happens when you create & connect to new lines.
5. Remember to Tip the Porter – Celebrate the ‘You’ that emerges from your ride on the Mystery Train, and show your gratitude by sharing the love you find with your fellow passengers. We are built to connect through thoughtful & random acts of kindness and attention. It’s a gift that keeps giving – both ways.
“The only thing that makes life worth living is the possibility of experiencing now and then a perfect moment. And perhaps even more than that, it’s having the ability to recall such moments in their totality, to contemplate them like jewels.” Paul Bowles, ‘
Here are a few of my ‘Mystery’ inspirations for you to experience:
Photo Credits – Steam Train: Evelyn Simak Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license; Orson Welles: Carl Van Vechten, Creative Commons Public Domain License; Railway Carriages: Vincent Van Gogh, Creative Commons Public Domain License; Tracks: Seth Doyle