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  • Kerri Cummings, The Modernday Mindful

How to NOT totally freak out in an airplane.

fear of flying, anxiety, phobia, Flugangst, mindfulness

I’m writing this thousands of miles above the earth. Sitting in an airplane across the Atlantic Ocean with nowhere to go.

Like, trapped, in other words. Sitting duck, so to speak.

It’s kind of freaky, to be honest. My daughter is two seats next to me and has grown increasingly terrified of flying. I held her hand during take off, at every bit of turbulence I explain that it’s just a bump in the road. And even while we were in the airport, I instructed her focus on her breathing, to notice the gravity of the earth keeping her feet on the ground. Feel what’s going on in her body.

Flight anxiety. As we all know, it’s real. But, I wonder why? You’ve all probably heard that riding in a car is way more dangerous than flying in an airplane, statistically speaking. So why are we not terrified of being in a car? Why does being in an airplane scare us so much more than a car? Or riding a bus with a bunch of strangers? Or being in a crowded museum in Washington DC? Or going to an all-inclusive Disney resort (ok, that scares me, personally, but no one’s asking so let’s move on)?

What is it about airplanes? Is it the whole thing about terrorists? Or is it the whole thing about the fact that humans are totally not supposed to be floating through the air at hundreds of kilometers per hour? You know, because, we have no wings. We are not birds, people. But anyway... Or here’s an idea: maybe it is simply the feeling of being ripped off the world we live on, taken up almost into space where we have no real sense of time, space or groundedness?

This is where I started with my daughter. Ground yourself. Get a feeling of groundedness in your own life. Feeling like we have no roots, no ground beneath us, can make us feel anxious, lost, and panicky in some cases. I think that is a prime reason why so many people get so jittery when flying. It is certainly not the statistics of flying. In fact, if you die in a plane crash, you most likely will pass out before you crash, for lack of oxygen. So, big deal, no?

I think it is the feeling of being taken out of one’s sense of groundedness. And if you already lack that feeling while your feet are firmly planted on earth, you will most certainly feel disoriented and frantic when your feet are waaaaay off the earth. Make sense?

We all go through our lives looking for a sense of belonging, a sense of being rooted somewhere. We seek this feeling in many ways. We need family and our sense of belonging to a family system. We need to have friends to feel grounded. We seek out groups that give us identity. Political groups, racial groups, religious groups, educational groups, fraternities, sororities, sports groups, interest groups, etc. We need to feel like we are rooted somewhere. When we lose those roots, whether through death of a close family member, being ousted from some group, peer rejection, etc., it can leave us feeling pretty darn panicky! We suddenly feel lost, depressed, anxious. We are social animals and need to belong to groups to “survive”.

So, when we fly through the air in a big tin can, we can often feel unrooted, lost, and separated from the things that we feel ground us in our identities.

So, how do we deal with this feeling while flying? We need to root ourselves in something else. In ourselves. Hm. Sound weird? I’ll explain. We seek all of these things in our lives to feel grounded, but in fact, all of these things can be ripped away from us at any time. The mistake so many of us make, is to seek this feeling of belonging in other people, in other things, in the external. We need to root ourselves in our true self, our core soul. I’m sorry if I sound all foo-foo-coo-coo, but we need to connect ourselves with our higher consciousness, our true connection with the universal energy. The energy (or GOD if you prefer) that connects us all.

You might be asking yourself how to do this while being cramped between two other people who are totally hogging the arm rests and smell like dirty hair.

It starts with becoming aware of your present moment. Become aware of your feet on the floor. Become aware of the seat under your bottom. If you feel cramps or pain from the ridiculously small space that you paid hundreds of dollars for, well, notice those sensations. Just notice them. Notice the people next to you. Just notice. When you find yourself thinking thoughts about them, let those thoughts fly by. Just notice, be aware. That is all. Once you’ve notice these things around you and have let your judgments pass by, bring your attention to your breath. Notice your breath. Let your thoughts and feelings pass by. They are nothing but thoughts and feelings. They do not connect you with your source. If there is some turbulence, notice it. Just notice. Let the thoughts about it (“OMG we’re going down!”) pass by. Imagine you are one with the big bird you’re flying in. You are here. Right now.

The current moment is the only reality there is. Anything before that, or any thoughts you might have of what might happen next, are not real. Just be, and you will find your anxieties of flying subside. You will calm down, and you will notice that you are ok, just where you are, right now.

Be mindful, be flawed, be human, be alive!

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