People often complain about air travel and having to arrive two hours early for an international flight. The long check-in lines and going through immigration and security can be tedious.
In the USA, the TSA screening process gets more complicated by the year. But I’ve come to accept this as just the way it is.
I know I’ll have to take off my shoes, get my computer and camera out of their cases, pile my jacket and belt into a bin with a zip bag holding my less-than-100 ml liquids. I’ll need four or five bins because certain items must be separated.
Air travel is a place of peace for me, even in the TSA chaos. It’s a place where I can rest from work. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work. I’m passionate about my work. I feel deep gratitude that I can make a living from my creativity.
Yet sometimes I need a break, and it’s often hard to let go and do nothing when I’m home and in my work environment.
Getting on an airplane does that for me. I may have a list of things I can do on the plane, like deleting photos from my phone – which has been on that list for years – but these things never get done.
It feels as if a phantom mist comes over me, a joy of just being here, now. I’m content to sit and gaze out the window at the clouds passing by or stare at the back of the seat in front of me. I call this experience the Plane Meditation.
Sometimes I watch a movie, especially if I can find one in Italian, since I’ve been studying that language for decades. Sometimes I get the urge to write just for the pure pleasure of writing.
There is no one needing my attention about an order. No one is asking what to do next. There is no internet, no social media to interact with, and no emails to write or answer. I lose any desire to work. Being is enough.
And since I usually preorder a seafood meal, the only decision I must make is what to drink with it.
Turbulence can spice up a flight. Over the years, I’ve learned to trust that the pilots know how to handle this and that planes don’t usually fall out of the sky.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but I brush that thought away along with wondering if I’ll remember how to put on the air mask should it fall from above.
For me, this is one of the benefits of growing older. I can’t be bothered worrying about “what-ifs” to the degree I did when I was young. This leaves more room for peace of mind, more room for gratitude and for being present, and more room for not taking things so personally.
This last one is a gift that has been percolating for a few years. It finally filled my cup, so I can sip it and not take other’s reactions, events, or even my own thoughts, so personally. This gift allowed me to give a gift in return.
I recently had the privilege of being present for a miracle of modern science. My significant other donated one of his kidneys to his brother who had been on dialysis for a year and a half and was not doing well. I couldn’t bear the idea of him doing this alone and flew to Canada to be his support.
I’ve had a lot of practice being a caregiver, as any of you who have read my book, Piece by Piece: Love in the Land of Alzheimer’s, will know. While that experience prepared me for being a support in this case, not taking personally what would unfold freed me up to really be present.
After seven years together, I knew Alan would not be a patient patient. I also knew he would suffer some post-traumatic stress from previous hospitalizations. And I knew I would be ‘it’ when he was in pain, worried, or anxious.
During the years of percolation, I discovered that other people’s reactions are their reactions and a reflection of them, not a reflection of me. All those previous years of thinking that how a person reacted to me was because I’d done or said something offensive, have transformed.
When we decide not to take other people’s words and actions personally, we become better listeners. Our compassion has a chance to express itself because our minds aren’t tangled in reactions or thinking it’s all about us.
When I boarded the Air Canada return flight, I was content knowing the kidney was happy in its new home and the brothers were recovering well. I sat back in my seat, with nothing to do for the next five hours except savor the miracle I’d just been a part of, and the miracle of “not taking things personally.”
Do you enjoy travelling by plane? How do you spend the time on long flights? Have you ever taken a flight to be by the side of someone who needed your support? Please join the conversation and share your story.