POSTCARD #33 Delhi-Bangkok flight: Travelling at hundreds of miles an hour but it feels like the aircraft is standing still. A curious sensation, there’s nothing to indicate we’re moving, only this pleasing hmmmmm of the aircraft, and shhhhhh of cabin air pressure. Daylight enters into the small space of my window seat, a fold-down table, colourful papers, books and everything has the familiarity of being in a small room, brightly illuminated with a warm, happy, sunny light. I’m unaware of travelling across the sky in a passenger jet that observers in a different location might see as a streak of light. In another location they might see the aircraft seemingly suspended. I’ve seen it like this, sometimes, in the car going to the airport; a plane is taking off and if you’re coming towards the ascending aircraft, it looks like the plane is just hanging in the air. It’s this same feeling now, only I’m in it – a strange illusion; the various speeds all around are synchronised and the impression is that everything has stopped. I feel like I should hold my breath…
It’s an illusion… isn’t it? Einstein’s Theory on Special Relativity; everything inside this enclosed capsule is relative to itself. I’m up here, looking out the window and trying to understand this experience… soft, pale white-blue sky above the clouds stretching over the curvature of the Earth. After five or ten minutes, the horizon of clouds is still the same – it feels like we haven’t moved. Suspended in the air and the Earth is spinning on its axis below. The plane is going in an Easterly direction, parallel to the Earth’s rotation, like a boat on a river going in the direction of the current and there’s no sense of movement.
There’s an awareness of space below, an awareness of space all around and the vastness of the situation. Awareness of breathing; the in-breath and the out-breath. The action of releasing the out-breath seems associated with the direction the aircraft is travelling in. It appears to move the entire environment perceptibly forward in a very small way. A sense of something having passed by, I saw it for a moment as it slipped into the past. There’s an awareness that a thought was there and the awareness that it’s gone now, forgotten – no awareness of forgetting, only the awareness of the awareness.
The ‘now’ moment is like the boat on the river going downstream with the current, it’s only when the trees on the riverbank are seen that there’s an idea of relative speeds. I can distinguish things from their time, a local sense, there’s a ‘before’ and an ‘after’, but I can’t separate myself from time. Time is what I am, together with everything in the context of this aircraft. I remember the past but I’m remembering it now – I see into the future but I’m seeing it now. I am what space and time are doing here and now.
I get up and walk along the aisle and notice that walking in the forward direction (the direction we are travelling) is easy, swimming with the current, like walking downhill. Walking back to my seat (opposite to the direction we are travelling) is like swimming against the current; walking uphill. Then sitting in this small window seat, with the familiarity of my breathing, focus and mindfulness as we career headlong through space at 600 mph. The environment of the plane, the presence of noise and proximity of engines… powerful beyond belief.
‘Our awareness is like the air around us: we rarely notice it. It functions in all our waking moments and may even continue in sleep. Usually we are caught up in the content of our awareness, preoccupied with what we think, feel, and experience. Becoming aware of awareness itself is Receptive Awareness, very close to the idea of a witnessing consciousness. Resting in receptive awareness is an antidote to our efforts of building and defending a self: the assumption that there is “someone who is aware” falls away. Self-consciousness falls away; the distinctions between self and other, inside and outside, perceiver and perceived disappear. There is no one who is aware; there is only awareness and experience happening within awareness. We learn to hold our lives, our ideas, and ourselves lightly and rest in a spacious and compassionate sphere of awareness that knows, but is not attached.’ [Insight Meditation Center, Chapter 27: ‘Receptive Awareness’]