Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Travelling: Fear of Flying

Back in England. The travel, fifteen hours on planes. Two flights - Honollulu to LA; LA to London. The journeys lightened by conversation with my companions.

As it happened both people who sat next to me were nervous of flying. I remembered how I used to be nervous and now am not. How the mind plays games with us. When I first went in an aeroplane I found the experience exciting, and could not understand how anyone could be scared. Then suddenly I developed quite a phobia and used to worry for months before I had to take a flight - and avoided doing so at all when I could. Then more recently I found my anxiety had suddenly completely evaporated.

Looking back, I now suspect the fear was displaced anxiety for other things in my life. It started at a time when I was in the midst of many transitions. It is possible that its disappearance may have been due to resolution of the various uncertainties that arose at this time, or may have been due to cognitive effort on my part. Certainly I did work hard to reason myself out of the fear, watching planes whenever I could to convince myself they did not fall out of the sky regularly and working when I was on the plane to understand the various bumps and manoeuvres it made. But really I have no idea how it changed. It all seemed rather miraculous. One day I sat on a plane and realised that as it took off I did not feel fear, but instead felt excitement - just as I had when I was young.

Really the whole experience has been one of discovering, once again, that primarily change comes through "other power". I could not control my fear, try as I might. I felt embarassed by it. After all, as a Buddhist I was supposed to be calm and untroubled by the certainty of death. But each time I flew, my heart would race and I would sit contemplating the certainty of death. I would watch other passengers and wonder why they were putting themselves at such risk. I would imagine them watching me and seeing my nervousness. Then suddenly, it all changed. The cloud lifted and my perception was completely different. What joy. Amida is at work.

So what do I say to my fellow passengers? How do I help? I have no idea. Sit under the runway at Heathrow and dare a plane to miss the tarmac until you get bored? Perhaps ten or more years of watching planes land every half minute would cure anyone through sheer boredom. But no. fifteen years or more as a therapist and I really don't have the answer as to how to create change of this kind. Its simply Namo Amida Bu.


Blogger Tricycle Blog said...

Caroline, I was very interesting to read this post, thank you for presenting it. I myself have experienced a fear of flying, and have wrestled with it in terms of my Pure Land Buddhism. I wrote an essay about it--Fear of Falling--in case you're interested.

Jeff Wilson

10:35 pm  
Blogger Prasada said...

Thank you. I very much enjoyed your article, and resonated with much of your description of the mental processes we can go through. Yes, been there.... Namo Amida Bu.

1:50 pm  

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