What’s the secret to dealing with a fear of flying? Is the answer to medicate, undergo hypnosis, seek out external distractions? Could this – available to us all – be the simpler solution?
It’s only as we touch down onto Thai soil that I notice the guy to my left is making clapping motions, his hands not touching but the movements pronounced enough to alert his friend. As the plane comes to a stop after five minute of taxiing, he lightly claps again. This time his friend joins in, still no sound.
Seatbelts unclick and a plane load of people stand up en masse, opening lockers, grabbing bags, standing, waiting, waiting, waiting for the plane doors to open.
During this wait I glance back to the guys. I’d guess both are in their early twenties, thick heads of glossy hair, skin still smooth enough to pass for youth. The guy farthest from me stares out of his window and I can’t help but wonder: was this his first flight?
First flight experience
I still remember my first flight, taking off, my mother pointing out dots of cars and the vast green and brown tapestry made up of little English fields. I remember pressing up to the window for the whole journey, every sight somewhat familiar with a new perspective twist. What a world.
That sense of wonder has stayed with me forever.
No wonder the guy is clapping our arrival. If we actually stop for a moment to think about how it came to be commonplace for hoards of people to be carried across the skies in winged and shiny metal containers, it’s pretty effing fantastic.
I don’t recall my mum looking away on my first flight, but I’m now sure that she did.
The flight from Brisbane to Bangkok hadn’t been the best or worst of my travels, but something completely unexpected happened: I was suddenly, momentarily, very afraid.
The pilot had warned us of storms up ahead, of likely turbulence on and off for the duration of the trip so you’d think that when the first ting sounded and we felt the first jerks and drops of the plane that I would have been prepared.
Instead my chest tightened and a wash of cold flushed up through my body: this could be the moment that I die, I thought, I felt. What vulnerability! A shiny, metal container buffeted by the elements. Most likely, statistically, we’d be fine, but there was definitely, of course, a chance that we could all die today.
My mind played out what it would feel like to plummet through the skies. Surrounded by inevitable panic and hysteria, I wondered whether I’d find the discipline to stay present and zenned as we tumbled to our deaths. All that reading, self-development, would it have helped? Come on. Of course I’d be hysterical. My knuckles striped white and I finally let out a breath.
Mind chatter gave way to mindless movie distractions until any feelings of panic were but a memory. Zoned out. A shiny, metal container full to the brim with zombies, medicated by sleeping tablets, booze and Hollywood trash.
Getting back to the wonder
The clapping, though, back on land. There it was, the reminder of what a wonderful thing had just occurred. Shame that most of us had switched ourselves off to that wonder.
As I boarded the next flight to London without so much as a morbid thought, deep inside my brain the usual thought river – dismissive of flight fears – had broken it’s banks, a new, gentle trickle granting me a glimpse into the fear of flying (and fear of dying), a fear so crippling it stops people from exploring the world, a fear that very nearly stopped my own sister from being present at my wedding in Australia.
Flip fear on its head
Fear is real. Shiny, metal containers carrying people across the sky are real. Flip fear to wonder, wherever possible. Who would have guessed that we could change fields at ground level to beautifully, complex tapestries from above, and observe humankind going about their lives like trails of ants scurrying off in all directions? Who would have imagined, some 120 years ago, that we could transport hoards of people across the skies in winged and shiny metal containers?
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#gratitude #flying #travel #fearofflying #anxiety #death #existentialism #mindfulness