Spiritual Woes and Rubber Soles
I have one serious fear—well, phobia, to be accurate—in life: air travel. I fly in my dreams, in my meditations; heck, I love a nice free-fall on a roller coaster. But put me in a enclosed, cylindrical metal compartment with ginormous 2-ton wings and a few hundred people aboard, and I’m a complete wreck. I know it is highly irrational and goes completely against my “faith over fear” life philosophy ,but when flight is upon me, fight is what I do.
So when an event such as the recent mishap aboard a Southwest jet from Phoenix to Sacramento (which, by the way, is a bit too reminiscent of the Southwest flight I take between my two residences in Phoenix and Los Angeles every few weeks), my fear-of-flying issue kicked into full speed. Just hearing about the incident makes me feel ill. Thank god, no one was seriously injured and all are alive to tell the harrowing tale that I’m certain has changed all of their lives forever.
My friends find it ironic that I continue to live with such a fear, primarily because I tend to border on being a bit, well, UNgrounded in my daily life. I can’t help it really; I’m predominantly of Vata constitution (one of three Ayurvedic qualities) and unless I practice daily yoga and meditation and eat properly, I’m pretty spacey.
But just because I prefer my head to be somewhere up in the ethers, floating among the fluffy cumulus clouds, I would rather keep my feet on the ground, thank you very much.
Still, it is completely unrealistic for me not to fly. So I’ve taken it up myself to examine why exactly I feel the way I do about air travel and how I might help myself—and perhaps, in doing so, help others.
And I think this is what it all comes down to: when I was a child, I had repeated traumatic experience around flying. From the time I was 2 years old, I was flown between my divorced parents who lived on opposite ends of the country. From the time I was 5 years old, I made the trip solo. Sure, back then, my dad could literally walk me to my seat on the plane and buckle me in before he got back off and sent me on my way, but that just wasn’t quite enough to make me feel secure on my long journey between homes. When we’d hit a storm—real or imagined—I had no one’s hand to hold; no one to look to for reassurance or comfort. And this is how flying for me became deeply associated with loneliness, fear, and the sense that I had little to no control over my own destiny.
The only thing I did feel I had control over is holding tightly onto my Care Bare Cousin “Lamby” and what shoes I wore. A bit of a digression here, but I was told by some random man at an airport when I was a little kid that you should always wear rubber-soled sneakers when you fly- for safety reasons—you know, in case there is a fire or crash landing, so your feet are protected. Of course, this didn’t inspire much confidence in an already terrified little girl, but it did leave a lasting impression. To this day, I wear rubber-soled shoes when I fly. It's part ritual, part superstition, part comfort, and all control.
I believe my fear of flying affected me on cellular level; it actually became part of me. Now, this is not to say that I am and forever will be defenseless against its assaults on me (eg. Racing heart, sweaty palms, random outbursts of panic). It is just to say that I have a lifetime of work ahead to do—actively do—in order to extract the fear from the places within me where its taken root.
And this is where all of my experience with yoga comes in. This is where I take control over my own life. Certainly, while my childhood trauma may have wreaked havoc on my psyche, my spirit does not have to suffer. After all, my spirit knows better than to fear what it cannot control. And because it knows better, it must do better.
And the way to reign in my misbehaving psyche is to BREATHE. Long and deep yogic breathes.
I close my eyes and focus. And I repeat a mantra: I am safe. I am safe. I am safe.
Of course, I’m human. And I bear scars from my past. Fear undoubtedly slips in between breaths when we hit turbulence. That’s when—when I’m too scared to even breathe—I look over at the women in their high heeled shoes and strappy sandals who don’t seem to be bothered at all by the bumps, who sit contentedly reading their In Style and Vogue magazines and I take comfort in their calmness. Then I tell myself, I may not be as composed as those sassy-soled ladies and I may not be dressed as fashionably, but at least my toes are nice and warm—and at very least, my sneakers makes me feel safe.