The London Underground as a Spiritual Map
It was in a lull on a retreat group recently that I realised I was musing on the spiritual significance of the Northern line at East Finchley. This is where, after twenty-one miles of tunnel, the Tube emerges into daylight: much as a travailing soul find illumination after the long darkness…
This blog is intended to appeal to spiritual travellers and railway lovers, though it may deter both: give it a couple of paragraphs. The Tube Network can show us a lot about aspects of our spiritual quest.
Take the Circle Line: going repeatedly round the same circuit, at shallow depth, is like our daily routines, which mindfulness urges us to notice and value, not just rattle through them.
The Central Line and Piccadilly Lines are rich in symbolism. The Heathrow loop reminds us how our deep journeyings can lead to high places, exotic destinations: but if we miss our stop, we head back round into the depths. Whereas the Hainault loop offers an image of the segue from deep stuff into a rambling rural idyll, and back again.
Sometimes part of our psyche may become run-down, decrepit, in need of renewal. The Docklands Light Railway shows how new routes can help such regeneration, and it doesn’t always need heavy excavation to achieve this. Imagine your new initiatives prancing lightly across the skyline as new high-rises emerge from the grunge.
You’re doubtless familiar with the idea of neural pathways: how repeated thoughts or feelings create repeating patterns in our brain. So imagine the famous Tube map as pathways in your brain: what rich complexity, with so many access points and interconnections; and it’s good to realise new routes can be created, and new connections like Crossrail or the Jubilee Line. But the effort and upheaval can be major.
I have a soft spot for the Metropolitan Line, helped by John Betjeman’s ode to it. In this exploration, it shows how a starting point deep in the centre can be linked to far-flung, rural outposts of our psyche, like Chesham and Chalfont. It also reminds us how our spiritual travels can be in style: there used to be restaurant cars on this line!
It’s fascinating to me that there are whole stretches of tunnel, and stations like Aldwych, now disused. Surely there are echoes here, of the neglected backways of our psyche?
If I lived in London, I might hate the Tube, or take it for granted… As a visitor, I love the speed and ease. And as a map of the spiritual life, it’s exciting to realise how many connections, and possibilities are within easy reach, and how accessible and useful the deep places can be.