Everything seemed fine until the plane started shaking. By the point we approached the land it felt like being on a roller coaster. I was not anymore scared, I was afraid of dying. “Am I ready to die? Have I fully served my purpose?”
These questions raised in my head as I was sitting in a plane from Cyprus to Vienna, where I had a stopover on the way to Berlin.
Feeling sour & sweet about flying for work
In Cyprus, I had attended a large meeting for a mandate that gives me the great opportunity to do something I consider meaningful, apply my strengths and get paid well, all at the same time!
But travelling for over 6’000 km by plane made arise a lot of reluctance in me. The flights I took caused the emission of about 1 ton CO2, 12% of the yearly average emission of a European citizen. Were that meeting and my presence there really so important? Was it worthy?
In some sense – for the project, the relationships with the people involved and everything I could learn – it made a lot of sense to be present. But I judged myself for that decision too: “Hypocrite, you are preaching one thing and then acting incoherently!”. I felt sad and angry about how accepted and supported travels like that are in our society. And also excited about the opportunity opening up through the trip. I flew to Cyprus with that cocktail of feelings in me, to finally have a very rich and insightful trip.
Purpose is being in service of life
During the flight back from the trip I listened to a podcast where Charles Eisenstein, one of my very favourite authors, was asked: What is Purpose?
Purpose is about being in service of life.
It’s moving your attention from caring for yourself to caring for something you are ready to change and sacrifice your life for.
A purpose can change over time.
Many people transfer their purpose onto surrogates, like a house or success. But they can become addicted to it and those surrogates are not fulfilling.
A purpose is also something that you cannot articulate fully with words.
It’s something bigger than that. It’s something you can connect with and feel.
I like to think that my purpose is about being in service of something incredibly beautiful and bigger than me: life, in all its forms and manifestations.
But while being there on the plane I wondered: Am I really focussing my attention on my purpose? On what does really, really, matters to me? I often am undecided about which project to focus on and which ones to let go. Probably there are some kinds of layers, worries, wounds I cannot grasp yet, holding me back from fully standing up for my purpose.
As I finished the podcast we started the descent to Vienna. The fields got closer and the plane started to shake a bit. “Ok, inhale, exhale. It’s nothing bad.” I told to myself to stay calm. We kept descending. I saw many wind-mills and a big lake approaching.
Fucking scary windy landing
The plane started shaking more and more. The intervals of calm flight became less frequent. We turned to avoid a cloud and it felt like being on a bumpy roller coaster. By this point I was scared. My hands started to sweat. I kept repeating to myself: “Inhale, exhale.”
We continued flying at that bumpy altitude, without going up nor down, but just shaking left and right as we progressed. I got more and more scared. I could feel my heart beating rapidly in my chest. I was getting more and more agitated.
“Are you ready to die? – If it has to be then I can anyway do nothing now. So let’s stay cool. If it has to happen it will happen.” My mind answered.
We approached the airport, I could see the landing strip. We were still very high though. How long was the landing path in Vienna? As we moved downwards rapidly, I felt like on a roller coaster moving downwards. We got closer and closer to the floor. We were shaking.
When suddenly, little before the ground the plane accelerated and moved upwards again. We had missed the landing. Shit.
That was so scary. I was holding the seat in front of me so strongly that the circulation in my hand stopped and my fingers turned yellow. My heart was beating like hell. I tried to calm down, by keeping repeating to myself: “Breath in, breath out.”
All in a sudden I felt so afraid of dying. Even if I “know” that dying per se is nothing bad, as I believe that we are more than our physical body. But it was anyway super scary not to know if you will die in the next five minutes.
As we kept flying and shaking upwards thoughts flooded my mind.
“Am I fine with dying right now? Am I “clean” with what I have done and created during my existence?
Dying in a plane I took half-hearted feels so wrong.
Have I spoken my truth? Have I been a role model through my actions? Did I live the kind of inner leadership I claim to coach and promote?”
I realized how I’m sitting in my comfort zone most of the time. It is a broad comfort zone, but it feels pretty safe to me. I rarely stand up, out of the heart, for what I really, really, care about when I am in a situation clashing against what I think my values are. I avoid confrontations whenever I can. I don’t act out of what the heart says is “right” straight away, I mostly act out of conventions.
The plane kept shaking and my heart kept beating rapidly.
“Fuck. I’m not ready to die. I don’t want to die on this plane.”
The pilots of the plane managed to turn around to try a second landing. I felt so scared. I saw the windmills and the big lake again. We were approaching the airport. A forest passed, and the airport area appeared. We were shaking. Up and down. Sidewise. I tried to focus on my breath.
“Am I standing up for what I really, really, care for? Am I fully living in service of life?”
We touched the floor and people applauded shortly, with relief. After a few seconds, everyone was acting as the landing had been as any other one. I still felt slightly paralyzed and needed some time to get back to myself. I just wanted to get out of that plane and run like hell. And then also felt extremely released to be down on earth safely.
Back to our insane normality
Everyone around me seemed to behave normally. I wondered, how did my seat neighbours deal with this experience? I wanted to ask them: Were you afraid of dying too?
As we walked into the airport thinking of taking a new plane in two hours made my knees soften. I had to check three times the gate of my next flight, because of the stress my attention span was reduced.
As I got to the gate I sat down and watched the departure strip, the blue sky with the clouds that looked like sheep were beautiful. Everything seemed fine. Planes were taking off. Did I imagine all of this?
“And what if I don’t land with the next flight?” The storm was all over central Europe and in Berlin was in a pretty similar situation like in Vienna. “What would I do, if I would have two hours left before dying?” I wouldn’t open my laptop and do the administrative things I had on my “to-do list”.
Instead, I thought of people I loved: my boyfriend, my mom. I thought about who may miss me if I would be gone. Who would even notice, and how? Would they see a message on Facebook? How frivolous. I felt sad.
The desire of acting from a sincere and authentic place
Somehow I knew that I would feel in peace with dying in the next five minutes if I would have acted in a truly sincere and authentic way in my life. At least, during the last bits.
By doing small things straight from the heart, like for instance offering my extra pair of headphones to the guy sitting in front of me in the plane as I noticed that he’s listening to videos loudly. Straightway rather than waiting until everyone’s feeling annoyed by the noise and “his lack of respect” until I took the initiative.
I realized that before dying, I wanted to “speak my truth”. Express my voice. A voice coming from feeling rooted on this planet, having a free heart and a clear mind. A voice witnessing the suffering created by the values put forward in our society and the story we are immersed in. A voice that with others contributes to building the ground on which everyone’s intrinsic worth is recognized and our interactions serve the expression and growth of each of us.
I waited, immersed in my thoughts. By the time I checked the schedule again I saw that my flight had been cancelled.
Flight cancelled: sit, wait, repeat
While cueing with the other 180 passengers at the help desk I overheard people’s worries of losing time because of the delay. I could observe their impatience and frustration. I was actually just happy not to have to fly with that crazy wind while facing the risk of crashing.
I was supposed to sit, wait and take the next plane. But this felt wrong to me. I just experienced a very high level of stress and fear, which seemed to be unnoticed. I needed time to digest this, I needed to feel comforted about the fact that the weather conditions were good and flying was safe. While the only information I had was the delay of the new flight I was supposed to take on the information screen.
It felt wrong. Not only how we socially respond to extreme stress – we ignore it – but also how we ignore the extreme weather event that was happening. We keep doing more of the same, just with some delays and some unsatisfied customers.
Listening to my needs of slowing down & digesting
I somehow couldn’t just sit there and step in the next plane as if everything was fine. I didn’t want to feel trapped in this situation, in this system, in this way of dealing with something shaking me in such a way.
So I checked the train schedule and after a long moment of hesitation – in which my mind and my heart were having a pretty complex discussion among each other – I booked a ticket for the night train.
I walked in the city centre of Vienna in the late afternoon, wondering about what was going on in me and in the World. I lighted two candles in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral: one for the light of all life on earth and one for my light, to remind me to let it shine freely.
I slept in the night train and when I woke up I was informed that we had a few hours of delay as a person took his life on the rail. So I had plenty of time to digest what happened and write this blog, while still having this feeling that there is something pretty wrong in our society.
I hope that this strange inner-outer journey I had, provides you with some inspiration on your awesome and unique journey.