Bangkok/Zurich flight: I think there are about 350 men, women and children seated inside this lightweight metal cylinder with wings and gigantic engines, surrounded by high frequency white noise. On East to West journeys (Asia/Europe) at this time it’s just one long night. Food and drinks finished about 2 am. Now there’s the twelve-hour journey to get through; an uncomfortable, restrictive environment. The sound generated by the engines and air pressure and my hearing mechanism are all one and the same thing, inextricably linked. A shrill voice inside me wants to scream at exactly the same pitch as the engine sound, and so become silent in it. Aware that I could go down the road of wanting things to be different from what they are and, in the end, come to see that it is precisely this that causes the suffering, I give up – just no getting away from it. And it’s somewhere between that relinquishment and the sincere desire to be free from suffering that the thought arises: there must be some other way of doing this? And the Third Noble Truth comes walking down the aisle and says in a friendly voice: ‘Yes, there is some other way of doing this.’ Just the thought of it gives me encouragement and after that the flight experience becomes interesting.
Focus on breathing, there’s the presence of noise and I let go of thought. Familiarity of breathing and focus, mindfulness; sitting in this small space, aisle seat, environment of the plane and we career headlong through space at 600 mph, altitude 37,000 feet. Strangely, it feels the same as if I were sitting on the meditation cushion on the floor, terra firma. Einstein’s Theory on Special Relativity tells us everything inside this enclosed capsule is relative to itself, as it would be on the ground. I’m aware we are heading in one very specific direction at an immense speed. With eyes closed, the breathing tells me it’s possible to sense this direction we are headed in. If there were seats facing the opposite way, I could try sitting there and watching the breath to see if there’s a difference. But aircraft design doesn’t provide for that kind of investigatory requirement. They like to have everyone facing the same way.
Trying to get this and other things properly into context causes me to fall into a dreamless sleep for some hours and wake with the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent to Zurich… ensure your seatbelt is securely fastened and table folded away….’ Then plunging down through rain clouds and down again through many layers to a space where dimly below I see the surface of the planet, December atmosphere, everything is grey. Then down again into a layer of cloud, visibility decreases, the air seems like it’s obscured by fine cloud filters. Can’t see a thing outside the plane window. Aircraft drops, altitude is lower and the light becomes less and less. Then break through into an empty space between clouds, drop down into another layer and emerge into a sky free of clouds, high above Switzerland, snow-capped mountain peaks, and at ground level, the plain, way down there, everything looks dull and grey.
Arriving in a different time zone; here before you know it – takes longer to adjust to the new global positioning than it did to get here. My eyes are still dazzled by the brightness of Thailand, unaccustomed to the dim grey light of the Northern Hemisphere. How can people see here?
[‘11,000 metres below the sea, single-celled “bottom dwellers” exist in pressures equivalent to 50 jumbo jets piled on top of each other.’ Just getting on with their lives, pleased by encounters with small particles of food.]