As the 747 taxied toward the runway in preparation for departure, I secured my seatbelt, took a deep breath and settled into my seat. With my feet planted firmly into the thinly carpeted metal floor I did what I always do: I closed my eyes and visualized a ball of golden light surrounding the plane, protecting us on our journey. One could say that this ritual is hocus pocus or even psychological, but it has helped me feel better about flying all together.
Many years ago, I loved flying and had even landed a job as an airline stewardess. Soaring through the heavens offered me pockets of silent moments when my pen would come alive and infinitely expressive. Flying became an extended moment to do less, enjoy the ride and, of course, the final destination.
It was only after a few mishaps, some very rocky turbulence and having a child, that I realized that my meditation cushion would suffice and offer me the same pockets of silence with much greater comfort, at much less of a risk. Deep down we all know that life itself is a risk with little true certainty and, as Helen Keller so wisely phrased it, ‘’security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all. ” Knowing this and in order to better ‘enjoy’ the journey, I developed a handful of hocus pocus rituals in hopes that they would keep fear at bay and protect us all.
As the plane made its ascent into the heavens, I waited until the reactors assumed a homogeneous purr, similar to that of sama vritti ujjayi, long and extended and absent of any gaps or hooks. 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 controlled the ‘’humming’’ of the plane’s gigantic engines and then zapped through the hundred 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.O.K so I resumed a dance of zapping, reading, meditating, writing, snoozing and checking.
Suddenly the homogeneous purr of the plane’s reactors changed their cadence and roared as the food and drink cart clattered noticeably down the aisle. The seatbelt sign went red and the pilot announced that we were entering into a zone of unexpected turbulence. Like the other 249 passengers aboard, I tightened my seatbelt and secured my tray table. Hocus pocus number one in action. I imagined the plane in golden light and breathed deeply and deliberately, instantly calming the chatter of my mind. Thank God for my breath that made peace with my fear and even seemed to appease the Weather Gods for a brief moment.
As I navigated through long deep breaths the plane continued to shake uncontrollably. I glanced nervously over at the passengers on 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 again. Hocus pocus number two in action! Mantra. Mantra is known to free the mind by stretching it beyond thought. I latched onto an ancient mantra from the Rig Veda, the Mahamrityunjaya, known as the ‘’great death conquering mantra’’. I silently whispered it (upanshu) in japa or continuous repetition. These ancient scriptures clearly state that this highly revered mantra is said to protect, release fear and overcome death, even though its reference is a spiritual death rather than a physical death. Nonetheless, with just a dozen repetitions of OM tryambakan yajamahe sugandhim… I was felling noticeably calmer because I do believe that these ancient Sanskrit words hold immeasurable energy and who knows, possibly the magical key to equanimity and smooth flying.
Hocus pocus number three was activated just after there was slight dip before feeling tossed and turned about as the plane regained control. Ishvara Pranidhana, the fifth Niyama of Patanjali’s pearls of wisdom known as Ashtanga Yoga, is the act of surrendering to something greater than ourselves. It is the art of letting go, relinquishing all control and trusting with faith and acceptance that we are animated by something larger than our egos and our financial worth. Ishvara pranidhana is a humble confidence that we are exactly where we need to be at each moment of our existence and that we are in the hands of the Divine. It is about faith in the inherent goodness of life and according to the Tantric Tradition, everything and everyone including our worst enemy and even turbulence is a manifestation of the Divine. “Only by surrendering our attachments, our unworkable belief systems, our addictive habits, and our need to control, can we truly experience the magnitude of our universal identity. Only then do we open to the abundant possibilities that exist.’’ (Anodea Judith). So, we are advised to surrender and simply ‘’be’’ with each moment of our existence.
How does one surrender when one is tossed and turned about in the turbulence of life, be it on a plane or on ‘solid ground’? What would it feel like? Scary! What would it look like? Heart racing, sweaty palms, clenched jaw, butterflies in the belly, tightness in the throat, choppy breathing, a magnitude of spiraling thoughts…What would happen if just once, instead of scrambling about with hocus pocus rituals, I remained fully open and alert to the deeper content of the moment? No judgment, no reactivity and no resistance. It takes raw courage to ‘’embrace life in order to expand the horizons of our being”. This state of being can be tranferred to any experience, unaffected by time, place or causation.
Pema Chödrön reminds us, “…Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
Remembering these words of wisdom imparted by those who have seen a glimpse of the truth, I relaxed breathing into 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 sat back and relaxed with what life generously offered me while tenderly granting myself heaps of compassion, because this moment was black belt material in my book.