live in extreme western Pennsylvania. Our younger daughter
and her family live west of Harrisburg in central Pennsylvania,
over four hours to the east. The quickest way to get
to her place is by way of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
I drove those 245 miles alone to be present at a school
Christmas program in which my granddaughter was starring.
Driving that distance alone gives one time to meditate.
One of the things I pondered was the metaphorical meaning
of the turnpike's four tunnels. These tunnels are named
for the mountains through which they pass, and three
of them reflect the Native American history of the area.
From west to east, the tunnels are known as Allegheny,
Tuscarora, Kittatinny, and Blue Mountain. One of the
unusual features of these tunnels is that the last two
are twins, separated only by the length of two football
people are afraid to drive through the tunnels. They
feel anxious, claustrophobic, worried that they will
bump the walls, terrified that they might be trapped
under the mountain with no means of escape. They drive
through the tunnels (which average about a mile in length)
with their teeth gritted, sweaty hands clutching the
wheel, often holding up the traffic behind them, with
their eyes focused on the tiny half-circle of light
in the distance which signals the end of their torment.
I entered the first tunnel on this recent trip, it was
a beautiful clear December day. The sun reflecting off
the snow gave a brilliant white aura to the world. But
the instant I passed through the portal, everything
changed. The light became a brassy orange glow, the
sound of the other vehicles echoed off the walls, the
radio program turned to static, and the artificial lights
flashing by created a distracting strobe effect on the
windshield. In that instant, I got an impression of
what it's like to leave the spiritual realm and plunge
into a physical incarnation.
natural world relates to the tunnel in the same way
the spiritual world relates to our human experience.
Driving east on the turnpike, we have to say goodbye
to the natural world several times and accept the restrictions
of a tunnel. In order to reach our spiritual goals,
we have to accept the limitations of physical existence:
anxiety, doubt, separation from the true light, static
in our communication with those on the other side. While
we are in the tunnel of our physical life, we are surrounded
by the sounds and smells of the world, the insistent
pressure of those around us, while rushing toward the
light up ahead which we call death. Ironically, those
who have gone through that final transition refer to
it as a "tunnel."
was so immersed in this metaphorical experience that
when I emerged from the tunnel-that is, when I "died,"-I
felt tremendous exhilaration. I was free, reborn; I
had returned to the light. An hour later, I had a similar
experience at the second tunnel. But farther on, after
I had been "reincarnated" into the Kittatinny tunnel
and had "died" out of its eastern portal, there, directly
in front of me, was the entrance to the Blue Mountain
tunnel. Six seconds later I plunged into a new lifetime
with no opportunity to reflect on the one I had just
occurred to me that people who dislike driving through
tunnels must really hate this double challenge. The
tantalizing promise of fresh air, freedom and sunlight
is snatched from them in a mere six seconds. Sylvia
Browne writes about this experience in reincarnation
terms. Certain dark entities, she says, because of the
negative quality of their previous lifetime, go through
what she refers to as "the Left Door" and immediately
enter another incarnation. The similarity here was hard
to miss. If the first tunnel was difficult, the second
one would be even more demanding. This is also true
for those who respond to the idea of reincarnation by
saying, "No thank you!. I wouldn't want to go through
that again!" But they forget that we come back with
no memory of our previous lives, and with the fresh
enthusiasm of youth.
you want to get to Harrisburg from the west via the
turnpike, you have to go through the tunnels. If you
want the kind of spiritual wisdom which God offers through
participation in the physical world, you have to go
through many life-tunnels. While our human existence
should be a joyful experience, we need to keep in mind
that there is always "a light at the end of the tunnel."
After all, one mile of relative darkness on a road 360
miles long-a single lifetime in eternity-is over in
a minute. Literally.
Posted Feb. 15, 2004
John W. Sloat 2004