The gusty winds above San Francisco airport were perhaps a bit too eager to embrace the plane. We were tossed around like little pennies inside a washer on a spin cycle set at highest level. The pilot had warned us that the winds would be strong but oh man, I didn’t expect to be that turbulent. Lots of moans and groans filled the plane as it swayed from side to side. The feeling of groundlessness shook everyone. I could sense my thoughts quickly ascending to “This could be the end of it all”.
I closed my eyes, because there was nothing else I could really do. I had been listening to Tara Brach’s meditation podcast during the last twenty minutes. I let it play on. Slow out breath. Long deep in breath. Continuing with the inflow and outflow, long and deep. I let her gentle voice guide my breath. The plane rumbled loudly as if it were a beast in pain. My head snapped back with the sudden thrust of the plane. No pause between, Tara Brach continued. Be aware of the quality of presence right here. The presence here in this flight for me was terrifying but I let my aliveness of my body be my focal point. Relax, open attention. If something strong arises, strong physical sensation, emotion, sound, letting what arises be right in the center. Whatever strong, let it be there. Notice how it feels, and the sensations in the body…
I came to San Francisco to see my daughter who is attending Stanford University. She is my first born, my only daughter, my sun, my moon and my star, my used-to-be total Universe. Now, at twenty years old, almost finishing up her third year in University, she is in fact on the verge of fully grown adulthood. Within a few weeks, she will leave for Japan where she will stay there for six months. She has never left the country on her own before. So this will be another first of many things for her, and yes, for me.
It was very difficult for me when she left my home in St. Louis and started her journey in California three years ago. I was a tiger mama, who helicoptered every aspect of my children’s childhood. Her leaving home was a much needed journey for me too, to find my own self, to see my own fears, to be a witness to my own mistakes. When both of my kids left home, I suddenly found myself with ample time to reflect on things. It was as if I flew to thirty thousand feet and saw the true scope and nature of my very humanly flawed journey as a parent and as a human who hasn’t quite figured out almost anything yet.
How many times a day, I try to take control of moments with my own narratives? True, trying to make sense of a situation and taking control is a much needed coping mechanism of being human. Or else we would all lose our minds and courage to face every day. But still, there is a point when we control too much with our thoughts and actions and forget to let go and let things be what or who they are. Because ultimately, nothing, not one cell in our own body or not one action or thought in others or indeed nature itself is not within our control. Nor it should be.
It was excruciating to be so honest with myself. To own up to my mistakes. In spite of me, or because of me, or maybe because of a little of both, my daughter is fiercely independent, and most importantly, a happy and content young adult.
It was fitting to be reminded that I had no ability to harness the wind that tossed our plane like a chew toy. Things we wrestle to take control will wriggle away from our grasping fingers. And we will be grateful years later, to be freed of this need to dominate the scene. We try to take charge of situations because we are anxious of the uncertain outcomes. In the end, if we are always positioning to be the one in charge, the one who makes decisions, the ones in control, it is our anxiety, our resistance to reality, that wins. Every day there will be new events, new challenges, new trials and tests that will come our way. If we are reacting out of fear, and not responding with clarity, our actions and decisions are not optimal, and many times, in fact, disastrous. The very act of reactivity feeds our fears.
So during the descent to SFO, I took deep breaths after deep breaths as the bile rose in my throat. I listened to the sounds of other passengers voicing their discomfort and fears. I listened to the squeaks of the metal bird which had seemed so strong four hours ago, and now suddenly became a flimsy little wiry thing being steered left and right by unseen force of nature. I listened to my gut churning with fear. I allowed my grunts to escape from my lips. Most of all, I let things be.
Next thing I knew, one wheel touched the ground, the plane tilted, and then the second wheel scraped the ground. And so we landed, ungracefully and yet, my heart was full of grace.