Fear of Flying: what does it mean & what can it teach us?

It’s the season for flying, and for some of us it’s also when a great deal of anxiety arises.

I took a flight a few weeks ago, and although I won’t go as far as to say I have a fear of flying it provoked some anxiety.

We are entrusting our lives to pilots, people that we don’t know, to defy gravity by taking a big metal bird into the sky at great speed. It’s a big deal when we look at it like that.

We know pilots are highly trained. We know that it’s not the first time a plane has flown, and that statistically it’s the safest way to travel. And yet, we still feel relief flood us each time the wheels land heavily on the tarmac.

None of this matters. It really isn’t anything to do with being in a plane. It’s that being in a plane triggers something deep & primal within us. It’s about the loss of control & uncertainty.

A few images were flicking through my mind as the anxiety rose in my belly, and the wheels left the solid ground. This is when I begun to realise that my anxiety had nothing to do with flying.

First image. A wolf taking down a baby deer. It was something I had seen the previous day on a nature documentary. I was struck by the way the young animal had folded its legs, and chosen to lay on the ground when the wolf had finally caught up with him. It had been running flat out for its life for miles, and when the wolf had the the deer’s neck between its teeth, it didn’t struggle, it bowed to its fate.

Then the infinite universe, the stars, and earth, tiny earth, held in place in all this vastness flickered into my thoughts.

I realised that the flight triggered this primal fear about survival, and my anxiety was about whether I would land safely. The flight confronted me with this uncertainty (however unfounded and unlikely it was that something unfortunate might happen).

When I actually surrendered mid flight to the unknowns involved in flying and stopped trying to work it all, I was strangely comforted. Trying to control the uncontrollable is such a big burden to place on ourselves because it is an impossible job. No wonder then that when we put ourselves in this situation we feel huge anxiety and panic.

I was reminded that there is something incredibly healing about holding an attitude towards life where there are no givens, and where life is not a right, a guarantee or something we can control. Look at how the natural world works. No promises. Remember that deer.

When we confront our deepest anxieties, we have the opportunity to move beyond them. In doing this we can enjoy the flight, or on a deeper level accept uncertainty & loss of control in our lives. This is important, as both are inevitable.

Life is a gift, and that this is why we need to live fiercely, like the deer did, when it ran across rocky terrain for miles, not giving up till the very end. We also need to be clear about when the end (any kind of event out of our control) really is, so that instead of struggling we can surrender.

Confronting our core feelings, and looking beneath things is really,really useful as it enlarges our sense of what is possible.

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