Zen and the Art of Commercial Air Travel

Posted: December 30, 2006 in Uncategorized

The more I fly, the more meditative it becomes for me. The confinement and significant reduction in stimulus and distraction for hours on end helps me clarify my thoughts and ponder them as long as necessary. I’ve grown so accustomed to this mindset that my mind begins to step outside the day-to-day from the moment I sit down at the gate at the airport. I am disassociated from my normal life, from all the places and things I so commonly base my life by, and placed in a state of transition. It is the first of several meditative points; I no longer belong to any place or thing, and in my physical transience so does my mind leave behind many of the familiar courses of thought.

Before I have even left home, I have had to go through what I will need for my trip and, being a light traveller, packed as little as I feel I’ll want. But even after I’ve whittled down my belongings, as I settle into a long flight, I appreciate how little I truly need. In daily life things accumulate as easily as breathing, yet the less room I have, the more I appreciate the ability to refine my life and clear it of that which clutters both my space and my mind. Often in these bouts of refinement, I give things away gladly, not feeling the loss of an asset, but the increase in focus and clarity.

I always fly in a window seat if I can help it. Not only is it more comfortable for me if I need to doze to sleep against the bulkhead, but I always relish the opportunity for a view. As the plane takes off, the ground drops away and simultaneously grows smaller and bigger. Blades of grass shrink away to become stretches of green fields; trees become miles of forest; buildings become grids of concrete and lights, forming expanding patterns with veins of roads and highways interconnecting them. That which is known is suddenly and significantly overtaken by that which is unknown. The familiar is quickly dwarfed by all that has not been experienced. Looking out towards the horizon, my perspective is expanded, and I both am aware of what I have not seen and done, and excited by the prospect of what is yet to be.

Flying out over water, apart from watching the clouds gradually slide past below, there is little indication the plane is moving at all, despite travelling at hundreds of miles per hour. In fact, I form a perfect dichotomy as I sit nearly motionless while still moving at tremendous speed. Even in my inaction, I am in motion. Stillness does not mean lack of progress, rather the seperation of advancement from physical effort. The linear nature of my physical state allows my mind to do as it will, freed from the weight of the endless barrage of stimulus response.

Among all these things, while in flight, I have that rarest and most abused of commodities: time. I like to let my mind make the most of it.

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