Navigating Turbulent Conditions: 1. Finding Your Safe Landing Place
When I was learning to fly a small airplane, you’d think I would have been thrilled. After all, I was pretty fortunate to have this opportunity. But I had trouble holding on to the beauty and thrill; instead I got hijacked by fear.
One day after practicing emergency landings (by picking a flat spot in the desert and then doing everything short of actually putting the plane down in the cacti) I was headed back to the airport with my flight instructor. I was sweaty but happy, since now all I had to do was one regular landing and then I’d go buy my celebratory latte.
When we were parallel to the runway and I was thinking about my approach, Clio leaned over and just turned off the power. Silence, except for the pounding of my heart.
I froze. No information coming in. All my training was for nothing now; I was paralyzed.
“Your emergency procedures, Pam? Where are you going to land?
“Ummm, I’ll land in that arroyo just ahead.” I was making up a ridiculous answer, since I really had no idea.
“Pam, how ‘bout the runway?”
I could have died. It was right over my left shoulder, if I only could have seen that far. Clio had just given me one more simulated emergency—an easy one. And I had flunked.
Fear can hijack our normal thinking process, which contracts along with our vision, hearing and our bodies. I couldn’t see my safe landing place even when it was right next to me.
This story is the reason why my Flying Lesson for Life #1 is: Know Where You’re Going to Land.
Clio pointed out to me that the antidote for fear and stress is training. Rehearsing what you’ll do if “the engine fails” is the key to safety.
So how does that apply to problems with food? You might think of it in several ways:
1. If you’ve used food as a “safe landing place,” something that gives you comfort and security, you know that it doesn’t turn out that way. What feels like it’s going to be safe turns on us and becomes a place of danger instead. So we need to practice “landing” somewhere else—in a place that truly is safe.
2. A safe landing space in aviation would be a place that is flat, unobstructed and long enough to come to a stop. What place would be like that for you? Are there people in your life who offer you an open, spacious place to “land,” without putting obstacles in the way?
3. The trouble with family and friends as a safe landing space is that they have their own troubles, failings and emergencies. So it’s great if you can develop a safe landing place that is internal and eternal. If you believe in a higher power, you’re fortunate. Or, maybe it’s nature. Or music. But make it something holy, something that no one can take from you.
4. Whatever you choose, practice going there. Make it a spiritual practice to give yourself a spacious, solid, unobstructed safe place that you visit even when you’re feeling great. That way, you’ll remember how to get there in more turbulent times. Particularly if fear has you by the throat, that practice will kick in and save the day.
Here’s a suggestion for a Safe Landing Place practice: Sit still and breathe. Breathe deeply and feel how your body responds. Focus on your heart, and imagine that your heart is breathing you. Your heart is your center, the place where you remember that you are all right exactly as you are. See if you can allow that place in your heart to open into a space where you can “land.” A place where you feel solid ground underneath you. A place where all is well.
If you can work on mastering this one Flying Lesson for Life, all the others will come. This is the foundation. It is one we all need in today’s world, so you are not alone. Sink into it. Enjoy it. No one can ever take your safe landing place from you. It is yours forever.
Pamela Hale Trachta (Guest Blogger), Author of Flying Lessons: How to Be the Pilot of Your Own Life