I usually enjoy the flight to Castlegar, the closest airport to my final destination of the beautiful little British Columbia town of Nelson. I love flying over the pristine BC lakes and vibrant, green forests. The closer we get to Castlegar, the more it feels like I can just reach my hand out through the airplane window and touch the trees and boulders passing by.
This day, however, is different. We seem to have left the sun behind in Vancouver and have been flying through clouds for a disconcertingly long time. Knowing how close we usually fly to the mountains, I wonder if the pilot can actually navigate this narrow valley in these clouds. They go on and on. I remember hearing that the pilots chosen to fly to Castlegar are the best in Canada. Castlegar, affectionately known as “Cancle-gar” by the locals, has no radar. Landing here can be treacherous, if not impossible in the morning fog.
This is not morning, however. I have already been traveling all day. Our flight has been delayed because the previous flight to Castlegar was cancelled and time was needed to rebook the passengers onto our flight. Now, as we coast through the seemingly endless mass of cloud, murmurs and groans agitate the passengers. We may need to return to Vancouver. The locals who go through this often are telling stories about the frustrations of various cancelled trips. Then, suddenly, the sky opens up and we see the airport below us. Delighted and relieved, I reassure the woman next to me that this means we can land. We feel the plan descending. Anticipation spreads through the little aircraft until, just as suddenly, the engines rev and we are rising up again, back into the clouds.
My heart sinks. I suddenly feel hopeless. The fatigue of travel returns to its full weight. How can this be happening? There was a clearing. That is usually all they need. They just need one little hole in the fog and down we go.
The chatter amongst the passengers changes note. It’s a good sign they haven’t made an announcement yet. As long as they don’t tell us we are heading back to Vancouver, there is still a chance of landing in Castlegar.
This can’t go on forever, however. Eventually, the overly cheerful flight attendant announces our destiny. We are heading back to Vancouver.
What do I do with this pit in my stomach? I had been so ready to land and get on with all I need to do to prepare for my training in Nelson, starting in two days! What if I can’t get there tomorrow, either? Various alternatives pass through my mind. All rejected.
Then, I remember. My challenge, my intention in life is to practice being. There is nothing I need to do here. Probably nothing I can do. I am in the plane heading back to Vancouver. Instead of complaining, I could be grateful for being safe. I could celebrate the opportunity to have a surprise visit with my elderly parents in Vancouver.
I begin to feel a shift. The feelings of frustration, despair, impatience, hopelessness, all dissolve in the love and radiance that grow stronger each moment I stay with the intention to be.
Isn’t this what Buddha taught? Isn’t this what we are here for? To practice being with whatever arises. Even a plane arising after it had already started landing…
When I finally emerge from the plane, back where we started from at the same gate of the Vancouver airport, I find myself calm and smiling. No, I don’t know when I will get to Nelson. No, I don’t know how I will get everything done there that needs to be done before the training starts. The truth is we never know any of these things. We can make plans, but didn’t someone say that’s when God starts laughing?
I love to make plans. Some fire lights in me when I start new things. Perhaps, that is God laughing, too.
I am learning to find love in other ways. The glow I experience when I settle into a being state is far more satisfying than the excitement of planning something that may or may not actually happen some day.
The radiance of being in this moment is even stronger when the moment is challenging. There is an added richness and depth when I can find this state of being when life is hard.
I am not recommending looking for challenge so as to deepen the experience of being, but I do strongly encourage using challenges as opportunities to practice settling into a deeper state of perception. In a state of being, I am calm, settled, oriented to brilliant intelligence of life. I am present, receptive to whatever the moment offers. Life is certainly a lot more fun this way!
As I enter the airport, like a boomerang returning home, I am surprised and delighted by the surge of gratitude welling up within. I am grateful for the opportunity to be with my parents one more time. Who knows how many more chances we will have? Even deeper, however, is my gratitude for being able to receive the lesson offered on the plane. Regardless of the weather, the clouds have cleared. The sun shines within. From there it can spread. What else really matters?
When it comes to my time to die, what will be most important? Will I remember the efforts it took to organize this training. Or will I remember the precious moments shared with my parents? And the radiance that brought me there.
And what will you remember?