May 24, 2016

A More Mindful Solution to Combat the Fear of Flying.

Andrea Vincenzo Abbondanza/Unsplash

Flying and I have been on the rocks for a while now.

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to soar thousands of miles above the planet where freedom would come alive. I felt weightless and transported, and as I am a “connector,” I loved the brief yet sometimes profound encounters with other passengers.

While soaring through the heavens, I would stare blankly out into the vastness of billowy, white cloud formations, intermitted with silent moments of journaling and sometimes overdosing on new releases. Back then, I loved flying so much that I even secured a job with an airline. Flying became an extended moment to do less, enjoy the ride and, of course, the final destination. It was like meditation in a capsule on a magic carpet ride.

However, in the course of the years and after a kazillion flights our relationship became, at times, a bit toxic.

Don’t get me wrong, there had been mostly good moments but the bad ones left an imprint. All it took was a few random transatlantic mishaps, a rocky bout on a 10-seater in Africa, having a child and of course, 9/11. If I wanted to continue to visit faraway destinations, there wasn’t much I could do about it but take flying as part of the territory, part of the journey.

Yoga helped, and so did breathing. Optimistic thinking and a glass of wine calmed the nerves too.

Most of all there was my little ritual that worked wonders and that I will gladly pass on to you.

Before taking off, I ground my feet on the thinly carpeted metal floor of the plane, and with my hands placed on my thighs, palms up, I close my eyes and concentrate on my breath. Then I see a golden ball encompassing the body of the aircraft. I maintain the image of a golden orb of light protecting the plane as it dances and dips within pockets of air during tumultuous flights. Once grounded, whether there was turbulence or not, I graciously thank the forces above.

As the 747 taxied toward the runway in preparation for departure, I secured my seat belt, took a deep breath in and settled into my seat. With my feet planted firmly on the carpeted floor, I did what I always did: I closed my eyes and visualized a golden ball of protective light surrounding the plane.

Ascending into the heavens, I waited until the reactors resumed a homogeneous purr, similar to that of a smooth, uninterrupted yogic breath before I allowed myself to sit comfortably back into my seat. Flying 11,849 miles above the darkness of the Atlantic Ocean with 14 hours of ‘’free time’’ ahead, I opened my journal and let creativity captivate me until my pen ran dry. Periodically I listened to the ‘’humming’’ of the plane’s gigantic engines and then zapped through the 100 or so movies until I found a feel good film to watch until it too ran dry. Again, sound check. All seemed to be A-okay so I resumed a dance of zapping, reading, meditating, writing, staring out into the vastness, snoozing and checking.

Out of the blue, the purring of the plane’s reactors changed their cadence and roared as the food and drink cart noticeably clattered, zig-zagging its way down the aisle. The seat belt sign went red, and the pilot announced that we were entering a zone of unexpected turbulence. I wished that the hostesses would ground those noisy carts, take refuge and buckle up too. I tightened my seat belt and secured my tray table. I deepened my breath, making it slow and deliberate.

As I navigated through long, deep breaths, the plane continued to shake uncontrollably. I glanced nervously over at the passengers seated to my right and left and noticed with relief that we all have our own little ways of re-securing a sense of solid ground that makes us feel safe and content once again.

Suddenly the plane dipped to the left just enough for my water to spill onto my lap. I nervously latched onto the powerful words of an ancient mantra known to conquer death.

The sages say that chanting mantras free the mind by stretching it beyond thought, and this particular mantra could release the fear of death, although, I think they were referring to a spiritual death rather than physical death.

Nonetheless, I silently whispered a dozen repetitions in hopes that it might just be that magical key to equanimity and smooth flying.

Just after, there was another slight dip, and after feeling tossed and turned about, the plane regained control. I thought about faith, not so much in a religious sense but just in relationship with life. Faith can be viewed as the act of surrendering to something greater than ourselves. It is the art of letting go, relinquishing all control and trusting with humble confidence and acceptance that we are animated by something much larger than our egos and our financial worth. Fatih teaches us that we are exactly where we need to be so we are advised to surrender and simply ‘’be’’ with each moment.

How does one surrender when one is tossed and turned about in the turbulence of life, be it in a plane or on solid ground? What would it feel like to surrender?


And what would scary look like?

Heart racing, sweaty palms, clenched jaw, butterflies in the belly, tightness in the throat, heart beating uncontrollably, choppy breathing, a magnitude of spiraling meaning-making thoughts.

With still hours to go and nothing to do, I shifted gears. It was evident that my reactive tactics were of little help. Sitting in the seat of fear and leaning into it seemed so counter-intuitive yet worth a try. I watched, becoming the observer of myself. It dawned on me how fascinating the mind is: capable of creating elaborate stories like sandcastles in the North Pole and making meaning out of nothing. The wildest of fantasies seemed so real and only added to my debilitating sufferance.

Within seconds, I saw the plane plummet nose first to the ground peppering the field with the remains of the demolished food cart and hundreds of suitcases jarred open. The torn pages of my journal floated just above. Fast forward—we were at my funeral. I saw my family, friends and students tear-stricken as they lowered my casket into the carved out earth. Loved ones spoke about my endeavors and my aspirations while playing my favorite song.

My sweaty palms grasped the armrests as I opened my eyes. I looked around. Where was I? I glanced at the digital numbers on the tiny screen that posted the current time.

A mere 46 minutes had passed since we departed!

In those 46 minutes, my fearful mind made meaning out of nothing. I had witnessed being shaken about, the plane crashing, family and friends saying their goodbyes at my funeral while my favorite song played on and on. As I glanced around the cabin, I noticed the food cart making its way silently down the aisle. Most of the passengers were peacefully dozing, and all were oblivious to my elaborately fabricated scenario.

What would happen if just once, instead of scrambling about with all kinds of hocus-pocus rituals, I remained fully open and alert to the deeper content of the moment? No judgment, no meaning-making, no reactivity and no resistance. It must take raw courage to sit in the seat of being and observe without knee jerk reactions. They, the wise ones, say it is attainable; all we have to do is lean into what is.

Remembering these words of wisdom imparted by those who have seen a glimpse of the truth, I relaxed, breathing into the now.

At that moment, I realized that all these hocus-pocus rituals were invaluable tools to help me grow and better deal with the ‘’ups and downs’’ of today and tomorrow. But really, it is the gift of the present moment that truly unveils the inner wisdom that transcends each moment.

So I leaned comfortably back into my seat, surrendering to what life generously offers while tenderly granting myself heaps of compassion—because this work is black belt material in my book.


Author: Jessica Magnin

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Andrea Vincenzo Abbondanza/Unsplash 

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