Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Zen of Railfanning

Practicing mindfulness in North Dakota.

When I watch trains, I always feel relaxed. It's like the cares of the world are washing away. There's something about being trackside on a nice day that makes everything seem peaceful and serene. 

I didn't realize it, but I when I railfan I am actually practicing mindfulness. At least, that’s what an article in The Telegraph in February contends.

According to the article in that British newspaper, new research shows that trainspotting—what the Brits call railfanning—can be used as a mindfulness technique.

Mindfulness is "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment.” It is commonly associated with Yoga.

It is also related to the idea of Zen, which comes from Buddhism. Zen is described as  “a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind.

For Clinical psychologist, Dr Saima Latif, trainspotting can be a way to practice mindfulness since it is a de-stresser and helps to organize one’s thoughts.

"Most people associate mindfulness with yoga,” she says. “However taking up trainspotting can also be a really successful way to embrace this therapeutic process.

"By involving yourself in a pastime that has a clear goal, you help to focus the mind on the present task in hand, which in turn helps to focus your thoughts and relieve stress.”

Dr Latif notes there are other benefits of trainspotting. It gets people outdoors, it can involve walking and it might disconnect you from the world—especially if you railfan a remote location in Canada!

"In these modern times, it’s rare to ever be truly disconnected,” she said. “The constant bombardment of information, from mobile phones to the internet, often hinders mindful thinking as your mind is distracted.”

By removing as many distractions as possible, "you’re then able to reach the ultimate goal of mindfulness—focusing on the present moment,” she adds.

(I can often get something similar with my layout, unless trains derail regularly at a new spot, I have an electrical problem or I try to put one of those tiny springs on to a Kadee coupler. Then my mindfulness goes out the window.)

Anyway, I always thought that watching trains was a near-religious experience. Now I know it’s true.

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