Month: September 2015

Fear of flying – Addicted to anxiety

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plane

Until quite recently, every time I have flown, I have had this little moment – right at the point where I stepped from the the air bridge walkway on to the plane.

I looked at the doorway in front of me, the mechanisms and rivets and bolts and levers. Looking for something, a stain, a dent, any imperfection that might alert me to something, I didn’t know what. In fact, I didn’t know anything about what I was looking at. I’d see the bored faces of the ground crew milling about outside the aircraft, and the relaxed easy smiles of the cabin crew waiting to greet me as I entered, and found reassurance in their seemingly uneventful day.

I stepped through the door and in that moment, surrendered myself to the will of fate. I willingly incarcerated myself in a metal tube, knowing full well that it would soon lurch me and my fellow prisoners forward to a speed of 150mph before somehow elegantly lifting itself up into the sky.

As the plane would turn on to the runway and the engines would begin to throttle up, I  would silently join with the plane, ‘Go baby, go!’  Thrust back into my seat as we heaved forward, “keep it straight, keep it level, go go go!” Faster and faster, “Isn’t this fast enough?” And then, the ground would gently tip away and suddenly drop out below. Forced down into my seat. “what’s that rattle, whats that whirring sound”? A little lurch to left, “whoa! no… ok..we’re ok we’re up we’re up”. My grip on the armrests would gently loosen, as everything began to smooth out and quieten down. Then the cabin crew would unbuckle and begin their duties, I could breathe a little deeper. Then, with a gentle ‘bong’, the seat belt signs went off and I would come back to myself, relaxing and loosening my belt. Out of the window I would watch the tiny cars below streaming along the tiny roads, worming out into the distance, many miles away.

It was always incredible to me. Always like a child in awe at the fact that I was thousands of feet above the ground screaming along at over 400mph.

And as we climbed out into the sky, breaking through the clouds to the stars or the sun, I would settle in for the journey.

But then, came the bumps!  A little shudder at first, then a heave and a drop, “Why always when I’ve got this meal to eat and drink to have does it start?” Sometimes after a big lurch or drop, the seatbelt sign would come on and we were confined to our seats. “shit! I hate this, please stop” Sometimes I would wobble myself around just to confuse my body enough to not feel the turbulence throwing me around. I just couldn’t let go and accept what was happening.  I was trapped in a superstitious belief that if I relaxed into the situation I would be punished with even worse turbulence or even the unthinkable. I actually thought that my fear was necessary to hold the plane together. A totally irrational but overwhelming emotion. Then the episode would pass as we moved into clear air, ‘bong’ went the seatbelt sign and once again my body would relax and I could drop down in my seat, exhausted with the fear released.

Then, a few years ago, something changed. Something deep inside shifted to a new place. I decided to try and let go of anxiety and tension in my life, to see what would actually happen. To call the bluff on my fear.

I was about to fly to Cape Town – a 12 hour overnight haul from Heathrow.

As I stepped on to the plane, I felt a deep sense of calm and surrender. I was in a totally relaxed space. I settled into my seat and felt totally content. It was like I just knew that whatever was to be was to be. It had nothing to do with flying and everything to do with an inner shift from anxiety to trust. From fear to acceptance.

As the plane roared along the runway, I felt excited about leaving the British winter, getting to Cape Town and having breakfast in the warm sunshine of a southern summer and as we gently banked over London and headed down over Surrey I was free of any anxiety or concern.

We cruised on into the night and as is normal when flying down over deepest darkest Africa, we encountered some tropical stormy weather. I awoke at 4am to the old lurch and heave of the plane as it ploughed through the wild night.

But now, I was totally undisturbed! No fear and no tension in my body. I visualised the plane bouncing over the clouds like a bus on a bumpy road, feeling the speed of the plane through the jolts and bumps. Rocked and soothed by the movement, I drifted back to sleep. Four hours later I awoke to a silky calm sunrise over the red dunes of Namibia.

As I stepped off the plane, I felt refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

I realised that something very big inside had dissolved. I had lost my fear of flying but it was more than that. It was deeper and bigger. I had to some degree, successfully lost a fear of life and death itself!

What had become so real and embodied in me was that, just like the plane did not actually need my fear to keep it in the sky, so did life not need my anxiety to keep things from falling apart.

It was like I had experienced a new perspective in microcosm of how fear dominated my experience of life, every day and in every way. But even more, how because of this irrational belief that anxiety and tension had served me in some way, I had somehow become addicted to it. An insane notion that without a mind and body overwhelmed by negative thoughts, fear, tension and stress, everything would collapse around me.

I started to notice how I had allowed external forces beyond my control to throw me around. From fear to relief, tension to relaxation and back again. Bounced around on the turbulence of circumstance, like my plane in the night, bouncing from cloud to cloud, heaving into warm air and dropping into cold.

I saw how I was always throttling back, unsure of the path ahead, and consequently always losing height, losing perspective, losing vision.

But what I really realised that day was that, just like me, my plane was designed to handle rough weather. It’s body, designed to be flexible and soft, able to absorb and deflect the massive forces set against it.  Its mind, capable of re-adjusting toward the destination, keeping it level and moving, moving, always moving foreword. Without foreword motion there could be no lift, no ability to navigate or steer a course. Without forward thrust there was only one way to go. Down.

This has now become the place in which I aspire to live. To understand that stress, fear, anxiety and tension has only ever caused me to become brittle and inflexible. Easily shattered by the winds of fate. A victim. Now I choose as much as possible to move with the wind, to roll with the changes. Money in the bank, or no money in the bank. A woman by my side, or no woman by my side. Clarity of purpose or just foggy confusion.  Good health or poor health. Starting a new project, showing up, stepping into life, taking a risk. Moving, always moving foreword, gaining lift and speed. Moving higher, expanding perspective to a distant horizon. Letting go of my addiction to fear and anxiety. Realising that it never has and never will serve me.

Accepting the truth that I am free to fly.