A few years ago I decided that I needed to be courageous enough to face my fear, get on a plane, and fly with my children so that they would not grow up either afraid of flying or never flying or both. I did not want them to be limited in the places they might live or travel to … or to be limited to opportunities and experiences that they could be having …and so we began the yearly flights each summer to visit my parents. It was easier to feign fearlessness than I had thought it would be; all I could focus on was assuring them that it was all fine and there was nothing to be afraid of. It worked for them, but on the inside I was still trembling and having what felt like hot flashes on a summer day in the desert wearing wool and drinking hot coffee.
Last week I was on a flight, 30,000+ feet up in the air, going 600+ miles. My original flight had been delayed. My delayed flight had been delayed. I was hungry and had given my sandwich to another passenger who was afraid she would miss the flight if she went in search of food. Awake since 5 am, I had consumed only one overpriced specialty coffee, nothing else. I vaguely remembered having tucked a granola bar into my purse. I was anxious to arrive in time for my son’s band performance and my stomach was on lockdown until I knew I would make it in time. Oh … and this might be a good time to mention that I have been afraid of flying since 1986.
Jan 1986: I was on a flight from Europe to the United States, just months after August 1985 was declared the “worst month in aviation history” … and weeks after Arrow Air Flight 1285 went down in Canada, the worst air disaster in both US military and Canadian aviation history. I was no stranger to flying, growing up in a military family, but I was a teenager. And I was terrified. With every split second of turbulence, no matter how minor, I thought I would vomit, or die, or both. I had three seats all to myself and I vacillated between lying across them while doing the sign of the cross, and holding my stomach while in the fetal position.
Once I became an adult I spent years either not flying at all and missing out on plenty of experiences, or relying on a Bloody Mary or a glass of wine when flying was a necessity. Ok, so maybe more than one glass …
Back to the present time: I took my twice delayed flight. I spent the whole time with my face in the window.
I noticed towards the end of the flight that as I finally sat back in my seat, the gentleman sitting next to me seized the moment to lean forward, look past me, and steal a look out the window as well.
I remained still, closed my eyes for the first time during this trip, and gave him his moment. I felt myself smile just a little.
This might not sound like a very big deal at all, but as I told him a few minutes later after apologizing for being a window hog and possibly coming across as anti-social: every time I look out the window I am facing one of my fears.
He asked, “a fear of heights I presume?”
I replied, “a fear of flying.”
He asked, “how many times have you flown?”
I replied, “too many to count.”
He said, “so you face this fear a lot then.”
And that’s when I explained:
Actually, no. It used to be that I would never sit by the window. I would always choose an aisle seat, and if that weren’t possible, I just wouldn’t look out the window. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew what it looked like, I just didn’t want to think about how high up I was. I was proud of just being able to get through a flight with my anxiety undetected by any other passengers. I had found that if I write or work during the flight, I am much more successful at avoiding the whole fact that I’m on a plane.
You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind. -Dale Carnegie
I continued to tell this man:
I have had a fear of flying for over 20 years. I have recently decided that instead of experiencing this anxiety every time, I will choose to look out the window and face my fear. I will believe that it will all be okay, that there is no reason to feel fear or worry, and instead of spending this time in a low energy state, I will look for the beauty. So I started looking at the beauty below, and above. I began marveling at what I could see. I adopted a version of cloud watching, like I still do with my 9 year old, except I also ground watch. And now I do this every time I fly, I look forward to it, and I take pictures of my cloud watching and ground watching experiences. It keeps me focused and provides a nice visual journal afterwards that I enjoy sharing with my children and which also supports my decision to keep facing this fear.
I then showed him some of the pictures I had taken on this particular flight and he first smiled, then started chuckling as I showed him one after another. I watched the shift on his face as he went from perhaps skeptical to allowing himself to see what I saw.
This has become a happy experience. It is delightful how many signs of love I see (partly because that is what I choose to look for, but also they seem to be everywhere!) It is awesome how many times I am now inspired … by exactly what I once feared.
This discovery and accomplishment transformed me in more than one way.
I not only eagerly choose a window seat now, and no longer fly in fear but in excitement for what I might see, but I also reflected on this, hugely in one moment, and then over and over again since then:
“I knew what it looked like, I just didn’t want to think about it.”
How often is this true for us in our daily life?
I thought to myself: what are we missing when we refuse to face our fears? What are we missing when we refuse to see what is in front of us?
And conversely, look at what we can see/experience/have, by facing our fears. By facing what is right in front of us. By not being afraid to look at what our reality is. This can apply to so many things!
This isn’t to say that what is right in front of us is always 100% glorious. I’m not saying it is necessary to embrace it with open arms, particularly if it hurts you or hurts your heart or spirit.
I’m saying that where there is darkness … there is light.
Denial of our truth, denial of what is right in front of us, does not move us forward. Facing our darkness … being moved by love, not fear … can move us into light. There we can find ourselves open to things we never knew existed. We can find ourselves in opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have. We can see new truths. We can live in the light.
if we are only brave enough.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. -Wayne Dyer