This week I have been thinking about the fact that no matter how bad our circumstances, no matter what we are going through, survival and success depend on keeping our balance, keeping our equilibrium.
For a long time I have had a fascination with airplanes. Knowing this, recently some dear kind friends of mine encouraged me to take my first flying lesson. When this was suggested, I felt some conflicting emotions. I was really excited. But I was also nervous and quite scared. Actually, until this point I had really liked looking at airplanes, and flying the ones with the remote controls. I hadn’t really thought very much about actually being a pilot.
Anyway since the opportunity had arisen due to the kindness of my friends, I decided to do it. So I went to the airport and there was the plane. It looked pretty small! I got in the plane, in the pilot’s seat, with the instructor next to me. He was a very kind young man with a very relaxed attitude. One of my friends got in the back of the plane and the doors closed. For a few minutes, the instructor showed me things on the instrument panel and gave me details on what to pay attention to, and what to look out for. I listened as carefully as possible. Then he looked at me and said, “Okay, now fly.” He looked completely relaxed when he said this, but I was pretty surprised. I later found out that my friend who had organized everything had told the instructor not to give me a flying “lesson,” but to actually give me the controls and let me fly the plane from beginning to end.
Well, this was very unfamiliar territory for me. From that first moment sitting there in the small plane getting ready to take off, I thought of thousands of reasons not to move at all. There were many, many practical reasons to become paralyzed, to not do anything, to stay still, on that runway, safe on the ground, in one piece. Then I started thinking that even if somehow I was able to get the plane off the ground and fly it, I would soon become distracted by all my doubts and fears about how in the world I was going to land, and this would become a further obstacle. I think I sat very still in that plane for awhile, but there was lot going on in my mind.
As it turned out, when I had gotten inside the plane, I had put the seat much too far back, so my legs were all stretched out and my arms had to reach for the steering wheel. Looking back, I didn’t set the base very well. So takeoff was a little uncomfortable, but somehow my friend the instructor and I managed to make it work together, and soon we were up in the air. Once we were up there I realized how uncomfortable I was, and then I adjusted a little bit and suddenly I felt much better.
Being up in the sky flying that plane was a lot of work. It is much different driving an airplane than just riding in one. There was so much to concentrate on, to pay attention to – check the instruments on the dashboard, check the line of the horizon to make sure the plane doesn’t tip over, look out for the clouds and the rain on one side or the other, keep an eye on the mountains nearby, check for other airplanes – and then back to check the dashboard instruments and the whole cycle starts again.
With all of these things to do, with all of this adjusting and constant vigilance, trying to keep balance between body and mind, you keep the balance of this single engine airplane, and through that you keep the balance of the relationship between the airplane and the sky, the clouds, the mountains, and so on. And the most important thing is that all of this has to be done with softness, and gentleness. If you are too strong, or too reactive, or pull too hard, or are too tense, you can turn the airplane completely upside down and then you are in big trouble.
So I worked on this, up in the air. and gradually it began to become more natural to me. As I went through the steps, with gentleness, with softness – dashboard, horizon, clouds, rain, mountains, other airplanes, dashboard, horizon, etc. – what actually happened was that things became very calm. There was no time or space at all for the thoughts of fear, stress, and worry, or even excitement or shock at what I was doing, to arise in my mind.
I was flying, just being the experience. That was a great feeling.
So life is exactly like that. When things are turbulent and scary, and we find ourselves in unknown territory, out of our comfort zones, we should remain calm, and move forward with softness and gentleness. We should not cause interference with our expectations and dissatisfaction, we should not create drama with our fears and reactions. We should remain gentle, and vigilant, and move our focus with intention from one object of focus to another, internally and externally, giving each equal attention and care, adjusting with a gentle touch where we can be of benefit.
From this, a beautiful life can arise.
In the end, flying that airplane was about not pushing too strongly or pulling too hard, not turning left or right with too much force, not reacting with too much fear or tightness – but keeping balance, keeping calm, and making gentle adjustments along the way.
When we finally landed that plane, the instructor told me I had done pretty well. I think he was a very great flight instructor, and I will remember that day forever.