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Tunnels

I 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.

Recently, 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 fields.

Some 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.

As 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.

The 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."

I 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 completed.

It 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.

If 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

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2004