From my sister site, Pneuma. The following is the transcript of my latest “meditation”.
Hello my friends, and welcome to Pneuma.
I’m your host, Daniel Finneran, and I’m honored to have been invited into your headspace for a little while, into that vast, shifting, tempestuous ocean of fear, hope, love, and doubt, by which your equanimity is sometimes swallowed up, and your contentment occasionally tossed, shaken, and, like a modest little dinghy caught on the waves of a stormy sea, perturbed.
Together, I want to restore that sense of calm, wellbeing, and peace of which, upon boarding this here plane, you’ve almost lost your hold.
Not to worry!
We shall regain it.
We shall grasp it firmly again.
We shall, as a team of two working together, recover our self-possession, fix our fading confidence, remember our breathing, restore our tranquility, become comfortable where we are in this plane, and, above all, get through this flight.
We will do this together, you and I will.
This is a guided meditation for when you’re on a plane. This episode is for those of us to whom flying is a necessary evil, a less than tolerable discomfort, an absolute nightmare, or, in its most innocent form, a daunting enterprise. You know, better than I, just where you fall on this continuum.
Luckily, this is not a group of people among whom I have the misfortune of counting myself, but, being somewhat well, if not widely-traveled, I do have some tips that might ease the anxiety and the difficulty of flying.
With that, I invite you to breathe, relax, clear your mind, lighten your spirit, unburden yourself of your worries, and simply listen to what I have to say.
At this point, I’m going to assume that you’ve secured your seat. I’ll assume that you’ve dutifully listened to the well-dressed, well-versed flight attendant, by whom all your questions will be answered, your concerns assuaged, and your needs fulfilled, and that you’ve tightened your seat belt. The plane itself might be moving through the air or, any second now, preparing to lift off.
No matter your position in space, I want you to ground yourself.
Plant your feet firmly on the floor.
Can you feel them there?
Now that you’ve established contact, scan the floor from your heels to your mid foot; from you mid foot to your fore foot; and from your fore foot to the tips of your toes. Retrace the movement and feel, once again, the heels. You might feel some turbulence or bumpiness beneath you. Worry not. Just know that, in body and mind, you are grounded. No matter where you are in the world, in the universe, in the cosmos, you can be grounded.
I want you now to work your consciousness up from your feet to your ankles. Take notice of how they feel.
From thence, continue up along your shins and your calves to your knees. At what angle are they bent? If your legs are crossed, uncross them. Be mindful of their flexed position. Feel the energy course through them.
Continue up along your thighs, peacefully, not restlessly situated before you, to your buttocks. Take note of the chair on which you’re seated. Is it soft? Firm? Comfortable? Narrow? Wide?
Continue up a few inches to the lower portion of your torso. If you’re slouching forward, correct your posture. Moving up your spine, bring yourself into an erect position. Let your shoulders relax, drop down, and come together, if only slightly. Allow your facial muscles to relax. Unfurrow your brow and unclench your jaw. Separate your teeth just slightly and close your mouth. Begin to breathe through your nostrils. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Relieve the tension between your eyes and around your temples. Move down to your abdomen. With every inhalation, every breath in, you should feel your abdomen expand. This is what we call, “diaphragmatic” breathing. Feel the rise and the fall of the belly. This is how we were intended to breathe. Somewhere along the journey between infancy and adulthood, we lost our talent for this inborn technique.
Let’s do a few breaths together, shall we?
We’ll do a three second inhalation, followed by a four second hold, after which we’ll exhale slowly for five seconds. We’ll repeat that three times.
Gratitude, I admit, isn’t the first reaction with which my breast swells upon boarding a plane. In fact, I can, and often do travel three hours or longer on a plane without ever considering all that’s gone into the successful execution of this incredible feat—this act of flight for which one might not hesitate, upon deeper reflection, to express his warmest and sincerest thanks.
Let us take the time to correct our ingratitude.
The fact that you can soar through the air, at a wonderful altitude, at a swift velocity, and with near-perfect assurance of your safety, is one to be thankful for. It is, in every way, a quite recent luxury introduced to the life of a bipedal species who was intended by its Creator to occupy and stand upon the solid earth. For millennia, men dreamed up fantastic designs by which they hoped to exceed their biologic limitations, imitate the aerial genius of the birds, and raise man with the power of flight. Phaethon, Leonardo da Vinci, the Wright Brothers—hundreds of years and dozens of nations were invested in this pursuit, which has concluded in this, your flight, for which but a few hours are needed.
Let us be grateful for the amazing technology, inventiveness, grit, daring, and enterprise of those who made flight possible.
Let us be grateful for the unthinkable swiftness with which we can be conveyed from one city, or one country, to another. A journey of many arduous months is now accomplished in mere hours. Time zones are traversed in the blink of an eye, and an un-circumscribable globe is made to feel suddenly quite small.
Let us be grateful for the talented pilots, by whose indefatigable poise and years of accumulated skill, this plane, and so many others like it, is being adroitly operated and directed.
Let us be grateful for the nameless mass of engineers, according to whose flawless blueprints and unfailing precision, this miraculous machine of the heavens was built. The engines, control mechanisms, landing gear: all of these intricate parts are of their making.
Let us be grateful for the air traffic controllers, who, with unblinking, unwearied eyes, scan those same heavens through which countless steel chariots soar. The highways of the heavens are made safe by them.
Let us be grateful for those who penetrate the ground as we pierce the skies. Think of all the effort that goes into the extraction of oil, the refinement of gas, and the shipment of the jet fuel on which this, and every other plane runs.
Sure, we might join in wishing for a “greener” alternative, but that is a desire for which we’ll all have to be a bit more patient. In the meantime, let’s appreciate all the work that goes into fueling this plane: the drilling, the refining, the measuring, the assessing, the enhancing, the shipping. So much unnoticed, uncelebrated work goes into this flight.
Let us be grateful for it all.
I mentioned patience—a virtue, no doubt, on which I’d like to focus a little while longer.
Have patience for your fellow man. Have sympathy for you fellow human being.
An ungovernable elbow might impinge upon your space. This is no cause for a hostile reaction. A bobbing, sleepy head might make landfall upon your shoulder. This is no reason to slap the misallocated head. A unassuageable baby might cry out for the attention of its mother. A restless child might take an occasion (or two!) to test the integrity of your seat by giving it a good kick. A teenager might play his video game without headphones through which to channel the annoying sounds. An adult might snore incredibly loudly.
These are all disturbing things, no doubt.
Respond to them not in anger, nor in outrage, but with sympathy, forbearance, and charity. Be patient with all your fellow human beings, of whom I urge you to be slow in your unkind judgment. Withhold your harsh criticisms. Stifle your curses and maledictions. Know that they too have their anxieties and problems. Perhaps they are flying for the first time. Perhaps they are traveling to attend to a family member afflicted with disease. Perhaps they find airplanes even less tolerable than you do!
Be patient with all.
Know that they mean you no annoyance. They are children of the same Creator in pursuit of a home. They are in this setting, just the same as you.
With that, I want to give you a few practicable suggestions, things you might do to interrupt the monotony of the flight, and enhance your mental and physical wellbeing.
If you can, set the timer on your cellphone or your watch.
Every forty-five to sixty minutes, stand up, and take a temporary residence in the aisle. Beg the pardon of your neighbor if he is, on more than one occasion, requested to move. Ask him politely and, I have no doubt, he will gladly oblige.
Walk to the rear of the plane, and perform the following sequence of stretches:
Clasp your hands above your head. Breathe in, and extend your elbows so that your reach approaches the ceiling. Hold there for six seconds. Allow your lungs, ribs, and chest to expand as you reach ever higher. Exhale, and allow your arms to descend.
Extend your elbows but, this time, instead of reaching straight above your head, side-bend to the right. Go as far as your space will allow you. Hold for six seconds, before returning to the neutral, centered position. Repeat this to the left. Hold for six seconds.
Now, with knees straight and extended, fold your torso over. Bring both hands toward the floor. Feel your lumbar spine and your hamstrings stretch. Hold this for six seconds.
Next, let your torso rotate to the left and to the right.
Roll your shoulders forward and backward
Perform a few bodyweight squats and calf raises. Don’t worry about fellow passengers looking at you askance. They are probably quietly affirming to themselves the wisdom of your conduct.
After you finish your stretches and exercises, return to your seat.
Feel the refreshed blood circulating through your limbs. Feel the giddy, healthy elevation of your pulse.
Unless and until a formal declaration by the flight attendant or pilot prohibits your standing, you can remain up, active, alert, and perform these exercises. I usually do them twice during a two-hour flight.
If, upon your return to your seat, you find that your curious mind is wandering and, if anything like mine, desirous of something stimulating and profound with which to captivate and fix it, visit my other episodes on this channel. Here, on Pneuma, we talk about the pursuit of happiness, the ultimate good, the meaning of life, the philosophy of the Stoics, the lessons of great sages, and the immediate things you can do to improve your wellbeing. I also have a collection of “Sleep stories” to which, if weary, you can fall asleep.
If your appetite calls out for something different, you can visit my other channel, Finneran’s Wake, on which I interview a fascinating and diverse array of people and talk about history, philosophy, literature, and politics.
I hope that this guided meditation was of some help to you as you embark on and endure this journey.
If that is the case, please, don’t hesitate to follow, subscribe to, or leave a five-star rating on this channel. Share it friends who are about to board flights. Plane rides needn’t be unpleasant, if we use them as occasions to elevate our inner peace.
With that, I wish you bon voyage and safe travels, from Pneuma.