|By Arthur Paul Patterson
article is taken from a talk given on October 4, 2003, at
Watershed’s annual Fall retreat. Click here
for audio version.]
I HAVE A pernicious fear of flight. The danger
of the take-off doesn’t bother me. Instead, I panic
when the plane levels off above the clouds. My stomach and
mind turn inside out sensing that rather than going up and
forward, I am actually going down and backward. I have no
idea why this visceral illusion grasps me – but it does
and it makes my flying experience hell. Every fiber of my
consciousness is persuaded by this flawed experience, no matter
how much I read about flight, talk to confident fellow travelers
or how many deep-cleansing breaths I take. I can’t relax
when I fly.
I had a dream.
I feel the hum of the engines, the whirl of the propellers,
the vibrating seats. My fingernails are digging into the upholstered
snug chair, my heart is racing and my mouth, full of frightened
prayers, is dry as dust. There is no stewardess doing the
regular safety ballet that always scares the hell out of me.
In fact, there are no other passengers, just the pilot and
myself in a bubble-shaped helicopter taking off for an undisclosed
location in the southern United States where I am going to
pilot and I are object lessons in opposition. He leans forward,
wide-eyed over the control stick; I strain backward, pale-faced,
trying to squint my way into mental oblivion. There is a nervous
silence in the cockpit until my pilot tilts his Indiana Jones
fedora, winks and starts fishtailing the aerial dragonfly
from side to side, banking erratically around jagged cliffs
punctuated by cityscapes of casinos.
I whine, quickly inhale air and cry out plaintively…“Stop!
Stop! At least slow down!”
After having his fun, he levels off, leans back, and, taking
his hands from the controls, smiles. I shudder and clutch
the brown bag I retrieved from the complimentary passenger
pouch. “What are you so damn scared of?” he says.
My one word response, “Crashing.” Hands behind
his neck, he laughs again and says, “Impossible, this
thingy here flies itself.”
Then came the didactic part of the dream where something or
someone inside your head does the running commentary you barely
remember in the morning.
voice tells me I am the swashbuckling pilot and the frightened
passenger. The pilot is my over confident pagan self - my
mini-ubermensch, whereas the passenger is my religious security
self, a safety-seeking wimp. The oracle leaves me with a wise
nugget of advice, “You’re not afraid of flying.
You fear life and want to control it. Lean into life’s
wholeness and you will be free.”
These musings on my flight phobia and dream interpretation
seem a far cry from the promised topic, “Getting the
Cosmic Story Straight.” Yet it is not as large a stretch
as it appears. There’s something exhilarating and frightening
about our position in the universe which compels us to take
a personal, spiritual or existential stand. It is this intimate,
personal level I want to tease out in my talk but first I
need to say a bit more about story.