A Meditation On the Plane
I am on an airplane, TigerAir headed for Singapore, about to take off. It is 2 in the afternoon, and sunlight is shining through the small airplane window. Passengers have been asked to turn off all electronic devices. What to do now? On my left, the middle-aged Indian man reaches for the airline magazine in the seat back pocket. On my right, the Vietnamese young woman lets out a yarn, closes her eyes. I also close my eyes – but not for a nap - for meditation. I press my bare feet on the floor to feel the grounding of my toes. Thighs are parallel; I feel the steady support my sit bones give to the skeleton structure of my body. I mentally guide myself to meditation:
“Sit tall and relax. Gently open the chest and shoulders. Palms on the knees, facing up. Keep the back of the neck long. Sit as if there is a string connecting the tail bone and the top of the head, pulling upwards. That string is gravity. With eyes closed, gaze towards the point between the eyebrows.”
The secret to maintain a straight a relaxed spine in meditation is to give our body weight to gravity, to know that string. I’ve learned how to do it through many years of yoga.
My feet feel the aircraft trembles. The hairs in my ears vibrate as the turbines begin to rumble and turn. Amidst the noise, I’m still hearing my heartbeats – soft like the heart of a baby bird.
The plane has won the fight against gravity to take off. It is in midair now. Wow. I am flying; and for the first time feeling it in all the atoms of my body. Pretty exquisite.
Something touches my forehead. It is the back of the chair in front of me! The plane is tilted that much? Other passengers must be thinking that I’m oddly leaning forward. But no, the only one who sits straight is me.
I imagine myself stand up to announce my discovery: “Eureka! You are all tilting 45 degree backward!”
Sometimes we have to close our eyes in order to see.
I watch the rising and falling of my breaths. Life can be summed up in 2 words “Inhale, Exhale.” When either word is missing, we know our time is over. I wonder whether my life will end with an inhale or an exhale. There it comes again. Death.
“I don’t want to die,” I hear it from the corner of my left eye.
Ever since Kenya, this sentence has always crept in. Because I have tasted near-death and because I am in midair - pretty far away from the forests and the meadows, where my hairy ancestors were running and hunting. “This is not normal!” my animal cells and bone structures protest.
When I stand on the earthy ground, I feel safer. I can rely at the very least on the soil below my feet. Or can I?
Few weeks ago in Nepal, the earth shook and cracked open and swallowed 5000 people. Just like that. Think about it.
What do we have? What is it that we can hold on to?
My sit bones are pressing to this black leathered seat and just last week an airplane dived headlong to the ocean, taking hundreds of passengers into eternal blue.
There is nothing really. Nothing that will not eventually fade away, disintegrate, even our own flesh and skeleton.
I think of how we get impatient waiting few seconds at the red light. Maybe because we're just impatient jerks. Maybe because we know life is precious and short; and there are things we want to create for this world. But greenlight flashes now, and where do we think we are going? Headlong to eternal blue.
Keep bringing great things to the world. But don’t forget to feel it when afternoon sunlight kisses your skin. Don’t forget to blow dandelion when you see one. Don’t forget to inhale, and exhale.
I wrote this article right after that short meditation. Try meditation next time you take off and write down all the crazy thoughts that come to your mind. Share it with me if you want.
One last thing: sickness bags make pretty neat writing paper!
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