Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dispatch from 35,000 Feet

From hammock to seat 15B, at 35,000 feet, somewhere over the Pacific, Craig beside me, singing in my ear:  “Don’t worry be happy.”  Saying I should listen to the song continuously while flying.  The sky blue above, an enormous froth of cloud below, stretching to the horizon.  The plane jerking and rumbling on minor turbulence, which doesn’t feel much different than the drive down the dirt road to the land in Hawaii in a pickup.

So what if I attained freedom from fear in corpse pose last night, and then in the hammock watching Jupiter and Venus?  In upright pose in the middle seat on the airplane, it’s the real thing, ground-truth to all of my enlightening thinking.  Here it is, under my breast bone, the familiar fear.  We pass, jiggling, over layers of cloud, openings, patches of blue ocean, like leads in pack ice.   I pinch the fleshy part of my hand, between thumb and index finger bones, the way a friend taught me, to relieve panic.  I tap my fingers on opposite shoulders, another trick.  I practice yogic breathing.  I practice leaving my body, staring at a rift in the clouds until I’m lost in it, mesmerized, hypnotized, but by the jet’s sudden bucking, I’m yanked back into my rabbit-hearted body.  My brain gets so addled, I can’t even read.  So I thought of another idea.  I remembered how scared I was a year ago at my first follow-up mammogram appointment in Boston, sitting in the waiting room in a hospital johnny, called back again and again for more views, for an ultrasound, until finally the thing in my remaining breast was identified as a simple fibroadenoma, benign.  I blogged my way through the waiting, describing every detail, the women waiting with me, even the magazines on the table.  As I kept the words going, a part of my brain was unable to latch onto the undercurrent of fear running there non-stop.

“Pretty good bumps” the flight attendant now says, “keep your children fastened in their seatbelts, stay seated,” while they walk around collecting trash, which I find reassuring.  All must be well if the flight attendants are still allowed to pour wine into glasses held precariously above laps.  The plane now lurching, shaking a bit, tilting slightly side to side, riding the turbulent air like a skiff on top of a wind-chop, tooth-rattling, but not scary on a skiff, nothing on a bumpy road in a truck, but 35,000 feet up, my body says “not okay”.  I breathe, I try to move my body with the movement of the air, try not to resist, watch the cloudscape change, get flatter, more distant, far below, more like lumpy pancake batter.  I love the people who continue to read (like Craig), absorbed in their books, not in the grip of what’s gripping me.  A flight attendant glides by, one hand brushing along the overhead bins, her sleeve fallen back to reveal a big sparkly gaudy crystal bauble bracelet on her right wrist.  As though she’s calmed the air with her sweep, the ride smooths, I take a deep slow breath.

When I finally went to bed last night it was past midnight, but I couldn’t sleep.  A part of me that resisted the day ending stayed turned on.   That anticipation of transition energy jittering through my body.  And the particular fear-of-the-moment that arose in that insomniac netherworld was the fear of cancer coming back, that one.  I awakened the sleeping dragon by writing it out in last night’s post.  Turn it over, I told myself, again and again, out of my hands, and when I finally slept, I dreamed I was back in yoga class, in corpse pose, so relaxed, I fell asleep.  When I awoke (in the dream), the room was dim and silent, and I realized all of us in the class had fallen asleep, Bobby the instructor too, and it was morning.  We’d fallen asleep together, and slept through the night, each of us on our little mat.  It was a dream but at the same time a real thing that happened, more like memory than dream.  I want to believe we met somewhere between worlds last night, in that place beyond worry or fear.

In the morning, the day after Equinox, I sat down one last time at the tiny altar in front of the Japanese screen, lit two candles and a stub of incense, picked up my journal and pen.  Picked scrap paper out of the wastebasket to write my worries, tossed each worry into the wooden bowl holding the spent matches and incense ash.  Then walked with the bowl and a matchbook to the look-out point above the gulch, me and the dog, like any other morning, he brandishing a stick, whacking me in the leg as he ran by, trying to get me to play keep-away.  His big goofy open-mouthed, stick between teeth, cock-eyed smile.  We stopped at the bluff top, where there’s a flat rock I sit on to check out the swells rolling into the little cove.  The air was still, finally, after days of intense trade winds, a little hazy from volcanic ash.  I lit a match and burned the scraps. “Troubles fly away,” I thought to myself.  “Worries, fly.” 

Clearly it’s not magic formula I think, as I look out the window only to be confronted by a big bright ash-colored blank.  We’re flying through cloud.  How did that happen?  But in this vapor-world, it’s a little calmer.  And DING, the fasten seatbelt sign just turned off.  Just a bit of jostling to keep the water in the bottle swaying.  Lots of people springing from their seats to walk around.  Maybe this is my sanga today.  Maybe my sanga just changes face, is now around me on this plane, fellow practitioners, each in our separate seats but being carried along, for four and a half hours, through the same air currents.  Now clouds reappear below us, their folds and bulges and wisps and shadows again apparent.  Bumps again, everyone jigling.  A pregnant woman standing, swaying from one foot to the other, ignoring the DING of the seat belt sign again coming on.  Now bigger bumps, like going airborne for a second, like a fat puffin trying to take off from the water after eating too many sand lance, flapping frantically, belly bouncing, bounce, bounce, bounce, and lift-off.  I write, the plane moves, and suddenly my brain lets go its hold, its fear, following instead the flow of words.  Troubles fly away.  Worries fly.  If only for a moment.  And for that solitary moment of freedom amid turbulence, I’m satisfied.

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