“Roger, Roger”

Captain Clarence Oveur

        Have you ever been scared on an airplane? (Or are you totally asleep?)

        I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had our moments of being scared in-flight and we’ve all got our stories. I know I do. (Today!) Two or three are likely rooted in reality; the rest are complete figments of our wild imaginations.

        I try to remind myself of the hundreds of thousands of flights that happen each day with little notice, but then one horror story a year preoccupies my mind. (But really, woman gets sucked from her window seat? Do I need to let someone know there’s condensation between the panes of my window? Bird shuts down engines on airplanes? Do I need to alert someone of the seagulls off the starboard side?)

        From selecting a flight, to the circus at the airport, to the security striptease, we’re on cortisol overload from the minute we even think about flying.

        I had “a thing” happen on a flight home from college many moons ago. Something went wrong at takeoff, resulting in a return to the airport and an emergency landing: head between the knees and instructions over the loudspeaker to “brace, brace, brace.” Now, all these years later, when I’m on the plane, and the captain does not greet the passengers in the timely fashion I need, and the flight pattern is low just after takeoff, my panic starts telling me something is wrong.

        Recently, exhausted and therefore more “oversensitive” than usual, I tapped the shoulder of the man sitting next to me. He had headphones in and was laser-focused on whatever was on his laptop. “Excuse me, are you scared?” I asked and then proceeded to plant some ideas as to why I was, dragging him into the abyss of my mind. Think Anne Lamott: “My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go in there alone.”  

        The poor guy told me he’d traveled about 300 days last year. He was not a great flyer but had no choice with work. One minute, he was focusing his attention in a productive manner. The next, he’s pulled off-task hearing my concerns (“You know, the TV monitors did all shut off a few minutes ago…”).

        That, like most flying stories, ended just fine, despite the two of us spending about 20 minutes in my self-created personal hell. Even if it’s imaginary doom, panic that surges up is awful. I understand why people drink or don’t get on airplanes at all; we all want to evade unpleasant feelings or avoid unnecessary suffering, as my meditation teacher says. The question is in discerning between real threat and paranoia. How do we stop irrational fears from holding us back from living?

        I try to channel my best cognitive therapy tools and remind myself how many times I have been right about a looming flying catastrophe (zero), and then I tap into some techniques. I’ve attended a few trainings in Emotional Freedom Technique, a pretty cool self-soothing/focusing technique.

       Anyway, whatever it is, we need to refocus our minds. Sometimes, I can change my terrorized vibe by literally tuning out, putting my headphones on, listening to inspirational music or meditations. And sometimes I need a simple focusing tool to corral my thoughts.

        I find mantras to be helpful. At first, I fought them and overthought them. How can someone else give me my mantra. I was told to select my own and that the meaning didn’t matter (huh?). No chance was I saying it aloud or chanting it. I finally tried it, and stuck with it, and now it’s in the old medicine bag of in-flight tools. Some other cool facts I’ve learned since then:

~ “Mantra” enunciated correctly sounds more like MUN-truh. There is intentionality behind these simple sanskrit syllables, with both the vibration and the formation of mouth and lips playing into the effectiveness of the mantra (thus the meaning not carrying as much importance).

~ There are mantras for healing. Check out one here.

~ “Om” is the universal vibration of the universe, linking all living things.  For personal coaching in Deepak Chopra’s Primordial Sound meditation technique in the Chicago area, reach out to foreveromyoga@gmail.com

~ There are mantras for releasing the chakras and each chakra has a different mantra associated with it. Take the word “Om,” actually pronounced (Aaaah  – “O” “O” “O”  – “Mmm”). Maybe you’ve been asked to chant it aloud in a yoga class. Maybe you’ve actually felt the vibration move throughout your body. The “Aaaah” starts down low in the belly, then the “Oh” you feel in your heart, and finally the “Mmm” you feel the hum in your head. In the world of yogic wisdom, that’s energy moving from your lower chakras, up through your heart center, into your more spiritual chakras located in the third eye and crown.

        Mantra wisdom abounds (and it’s mostly over this head). Whether it’s a syllable you try on for size, or a mantra given to you by a teacher, it is all good. You can silently repeat it 108 times with a mala, or chant it, or simply use it as a touchtone to aid in returning to your intention. (This last one is the way of Centering Prayer, one of the many forms of mantra meditation.)  

        As it is with all things, the more we practice mantra meditation, the more it will sink in. Simply said: mantra meditation works.  

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Tom

    A boatload of great information, resources and inspiration here, Elinor. Thank you! Especially love the Lamott quote…

  2. Katie

    I love the plane story. I was once on a flight so bumpy and scary, I held the hand of the person next to me. It made a world of difference. Great work???

  3. Katie

    PS- the person I held hands with was a complete stranger. The power of togetherness can be extraordinary !?

  4. Jen Pen

    Love Anne Lamott!!!!
    Great meditation suggestions!
    (New blog post up. Link in my blue name.)

  5. Elliott

    Not that I’m glad you have to deal with airplane anxiety, but it makes me feel less alone. Thanks for the good advice. (My personal technique involves bringing my lucky baseball. Don’t even ask.)

    1. 40waysofpeace

      you are not alone, dude.
      woman I was with this weekend kept referring to her terror of flying. guy next to her on friday started screaming engine was on fire as they were rolling down runway. (he clearly did not have his lucky baseball!) aborted takeoff, everything was fine, not sure “what became of the man.”
      we’ve all been there. laugh or cry, you get to choose:)

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