There was enough strength and honesty in that question to penetrate my fear. I didn’t know if I was afraid of anything now, because I wasn’t even present. I hadn’t yet experienced what was happening. My fear had created a barrier between me and my real time experience. My fear had to be based on the past. It was that past which was creating my present experience, and creating the dire scenarios I kept imagining were only moments away.
Again came the arrow: Is your fear related to what is happening now, or to what happened twenty years ago?
Now there was enough room in my consciousness to work with this question. If there was something to fear now, in this moment, in the helicopter with Tim, then at least let me get in touch with it, let me experience it.
This internal dialogue helped to dissipate some of the fear and tension. I opened my eyes. I relaxed into the seat and let it hold me. I unclenched my hands. I began to breath, consciously. Deep breaths, into the belly...and slowly out. Again. Again.
I looked out, and down.
The past was being replaced with the present. I kept breathing out tension and letting go of images that were a part of the past. Suddenly I noticed how smooth the ride was, incredibly so. I could hear Tim point out some landmarks in the headphones. I began to marvel at the view, and how much freedom we had to go wherever we wanted. Circling the Rose Bowl, dipping down over hidden mansions, hovering near office buildings, skipping just over the waves of the ocean off the Santa Monica beaches.
My body had become completely relaxed, my mind at ease, my breathing steady. I was present. And in the present, there was no fear. I became very confident and sure of our safety. I remembered how Tim explained to me that even if the engine died, the rate of descent would cause enough airflow for the blades to keep whirling to allow for an easy landing.
The more present I became, the more I experienced the freedom of the flight, the amazing views and perspectives of L. A., the peace of such solitary and easy movement above the congestion below. How wonderful!
I lost track of time, and was surprised when I heard Tim’s voice in my headphones saying that we were approaching the airport and would be landing in a matter of moments. I heard myself utter a disappointed sigh and realized how far, indeed, the journey had been. Certainly more than just an hour; certainly more than just a broad circling of Los Angeles. I had journeyed from a nightmare to a daydream, from fear to excitement.
As we approached the landing strip, I thought that the helicopter had been like a Plexiglas cocoon, a chrysalis, in which the body of my old fears had been dissolved and discarded in favor of new wings, bright wings, wings which would carry me to more adventures, more joys.
There is a big life lesson in this experience, one that far transcends dealing with the fear of flying. It has to do with the fact that we must become fully present in order to experience what is happening now, in order to know what is happening now. How tragic to go through life a prisoner of the past. I was reminded to monitor the source of my tension or fear or anxiety to see whether is had anything to do with the present, or whether it was the past interpreting the present.
Relax the body. Breath deeply. Keep the eyes open. Let the feelings and sensations come cleanly, not through a window caked with the mud and dead insects of the past. How wonderful the present can be, when we are present with it.