Will I Or Won’t I?
A nail-biting tale of using Spiritual Intelligence in a very sticky situation
05:45 It’s a chilly, pitch-black Friday morning. My eyes are still feeling the uncomfortable heaviness of having been wakened too early and my body’s not quite caught up with the idea that I’m up and about. The familiar yet slightly intrusive discomfort is just beginning to dissipate as I put the key in the ignition and set off on the road to the airport. I’m booked on the 09:05 from Edinburgh to New York. I’ve been back and forth to the airport hundreds of times. I know how long it takes and I know how to plan around the inevitable jams during peak hours. Given that this trip is a bigger deal than usual, I’ve applied an extra level of diligence and checked the internet for any traffic issues before I set off. There are routine roadworks overnight on the Bridge (a major artery into the capital) but it’s all due to be complete by 6am, in plenty of time to clear the way for the morning commuters.
06:20 I’m making predictable progress on the road. The radio is keeping me company, thanks to the inordinately chirpy tones of the dawn DJ and the first glimpses of sunrise are emerging over the horizon. All is well.
06:25 Uh-oh what’s this? I come to a stop behind the bumper of the car in front, at the end of a queue of vehicles that is stretching out as far as I can see. I’m just one more bemused driver amidst three packed lanes of static traffic. To begin with I remain calm though, as you would expect, my curiosity is piqued. I want to know what’s happening. My first thoughts are “It’s OK. I’ve got plenty of time. Just 12 miles to go. I’m cool — just need to sit it out.”
06:40 Still static. My thoughts are beginning to shift into the realm of “It’s still OK but maybe I need a Plan B, just in case.” I decide that it’d be a good idea to check in online on my phone to save a few minutes at the airport and I’m mildly irritated with myself for not doing it at home. I usually do. Rallied by the notion of taking a small step forward, I eagerly step out of the car to retrieve my phone, packed away in the boot. My micro-jaunt out of the car attracts the gaze of several bored drivers, mildly interested in what I’m up to.
06:42 OK — now to check in… arghhh, no signal. I wonder about phoning home to ask my partner to look on the internet to see if he can find out what’s happening on the road and what alternative flight plans there may be. Still no signal. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m remembering that I’ve learned techniques for managing stress and begin to take some deep breaths. I do my best to loosen the tension that is creeping into my jaw, neck, shoulders, stomach…
07:00 After 35 minutes of total grid-lock, we’ve started to crawl — stop, start, stop, start. The inches pass devastatingly slowly. My heart rate is beginning to accelerate. My thoughts have now reached “It’s not OK — shit! There’s no way… and breathe…” I’m now having an odd kind of in-and-out of body experience where I am simultaneously aware of the mind and body grappling with a surge of adrenaline, juggling a plethora of alternative arrangements going round in my head and noticing the emergence of the ultimate personal development strategy — the Spiritual Solution. It now dawns on me that this whole journey to New York is for a face to face encounter with my spiritual teacher and I can hear his voice in my head “Apply the teachings.” I’ve heard this phrase so often that it’s second nature to hear it booming loud and clear in my inner ears, in his coarse yet lyrical Irish accent.
With the ongoing signs of adrenaline and panic moving into the back seat, three key phrases from the spiritual teachings come immediately to the fore:
“What you focus on, you attract”
“Let go and trust”
“What is meant to happen, will happen, no matter what…”
07:05 I get to work creating an image in my mind of me sitting on the 09:05, settling back in my seat, feeling a huge sense of relief and sipping a much-needed (but still not very palatable) cup of airline tea. I imagine exactly what this looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like. I step into the picture and internally I can hear the in-flight announcement welcoming everyone on board. Inwardly and outwardly, I break into a comforting smile.
Tussling with the paradox of letting go, I also begin to accept that I need to have absolutely no attachment to getting on that flight. If I make it, great. If I don’t make it, great. It seems very straightforward as I make the decision to continue making my way to the airport anyway, with no striving and no attachment, and figure out my options when I get there. I can already sense my body feeling just that little bit easier. That said, the knowledge that there is only one direct flight a day between Edinburgh and New York is on my mind; any other route is going to be a bit of an epic in comparison and I’m on a tight schedule.
Despite feeling distinctly reassured in my visioning, I have to open my eyes to re-engage in the glacial-paced flow. I’m reminded that spirituality is about being fully ‘in’ the world, not floating about in a meditative trance as a way of avoiding life’s inconvenient challenges. In this particular instance, I guess this really is where the rubber hits the road. There’s no point in me continuing in my spiritual reverie without active application in the real world. Unfortunately, with each reluctant peep back onto the road, the reality reveals a continuing lack of progress and my rational thinking mind is still present, like a cantankerous and impatient old Auntie, making her frustrations annoyingly audible from the back-seat.
07:20 The crawl continues. My mind is now fully engaged in what feels like a tennis match. My attention is being whacked back and forth between the ‘All is Well’ inner guru and ‘Arghhh!!!’. To add a bit of weight to the ‘All is Well’ camp, I conclude that a mantra might just be enough to tip the balance.
07:30 I’m chanting my mantra out loud, over and over. I was told that this particular string of sounds helps to stave off negativity. I’ve honestly no idea if it actually means “F**k off, Demons” in Sanskrit, or it is simply blocking any disturbing thoughts, but at this stage who cares? I’ll try anything. I snatch snippets of the ‘What I want to attract’ image in my head, still batting back and forth between “I trust” and “You’ve got to be joking.”
07:55 The crawl is a bit more consistent now. I don’t think I’ve gone more than 10mph in the last 20 minutes but at least we’re moving. I’m now over the Bridge. Six miles to go.
08:15 I cross the threshold of the airport carpark, curiously still carrying the notion that the possibility of me getting on the flight is still on the cards. I have yet to find a parking space, get a shuttle bus to the terminal, check in (remember — no signal), go through security…
I hear a quiet inner whisper “Go for it! Give it your best shot.” In response, a part of me chuckles inwardly imagining the lunacy of the vain effort that is about to ensue.
I see the shuttle bus meandering its familiar way around the car park and thrust my car into the nearest spot. For the shuttle driver, it’s just another routine day and he has no idea of the turmoil that has been accompanying me for the past couple of hours. He stops to let me in with absolutely no sense of urgency. Four minutes later, as the bus approaches the terminal stop, I edge my way to the door, like a stalking tiger getting ready to pounce at the first sign of movement.
I sprint out towards the check-in desks frantically scanning the boards for information. American Airlines Flight AA276 to JFK: CHECK-IN Desks 32–35. I scour the sea of desks, which settle upon a bleak tumble-weed scene at Desks 32–35. Fortunately, my forlorn glance catches sight of a middle-aged man in his customary airline uniform, just packing up the last of his paperwork. His slightly wearying expression conveys that he really can’t be bothered with any more passengers and is ready for his coffee break. In this last-ditch effort, with the best pleading puppy-dog eyes that I can muster, I make my approach.
“Please Sir, is there any chance of getting on the 09:05 to JFK? I’ve only got carry-on”. Unsurprisingly, he slides up the edge of his sleeve, glances at his watch and shakes his head disbelievingly. I do the eyes again. I don’t know what makes him do it, but he picks up the phone and dials the desk upstairs. “We have a very late arrival’” he announces, “No bags to check in. Will you take her?”
He puts down the phone, looks me in the eyes with a ‘You jammy bitch’ kind of look, hands me a boarding card and conveys clear instructions for me to head straight for the Fast-Track security lane. On his authority, I dash off, just making out his parting words “Be quick. They won’t wait long”.
The passenger-dodging throughout the check out lines, up the escalators and across the concourse towards security, is both exhilarating and exhausting. I meet yet more disapproving officialdom at the Fast-Track gate. This guy seems to be extremely pissed off with the man on whose authority I am presenting myself. Sorry mate, there’s no time for social etiquette here, so I just shrug and dodge my way to the front of the queue. On the monitors, the GATE CLOSED sign is now clearly visible for Flight AA276.
Phew, no forgotten nail clippers or shampoo in my luggage and I make my final whirlwind dash through the duty-free shop, passed the whisky sampling, perfume sprayers and tartan souvenirs. Completely unaware and unconcerned of what I’m leaving in my wake, I locate the direction of GATE 6 which, according to the signs, is still another 5 minutes walk away. I don’t have 5 minutes. I don’t have 3 minutes. With the determination of a marathon runner digging deep to sprint to the finish, I access a deeper well of commitment and give it all I’ve got.
GATE 6 is another desolate tumble-weed scene. There’s the tell-tale sign of discarded newspapers, empty take-out cups and half-eaten muffins. No smart blue uniforms and no straggling passengers. I push the door leading from GATE 6 onto the aircraft boarding ramp. It’s locked. In this instant, it has completely escaped my mind that I am supposed to be unattached to whether I am on the flight or not. Instead, I feel utterly crestfallen.
Eyes sinking to the floor, I’m about to turn around to look for a quiet corner to slump in, when a man in a tie with a security lanyard around his neck and official looking epaulettes appears. “Hi and welcome” he chirps “Are you going to New York? I’m the pilot. Relax. You made it! The plane’s going nowhere without me.”
As I grapple with an inappropriate urge to hug him, we make our way side by side down the ramp, not unlike a father and bride proudly striding down the aisle. Thanking him for the Nth time, we go our respective ways on board the aircraft. I make my way passed the rows of already-settled passengers, whilst the in-flight welcome announcement is being broadcast.
09:03 I’m in seat 34C. I’m smiling — big, cheesy ear-to-ear type of smiling. I shake my head with a mix of amusement and disbelief. “How the heck? So, maybe I’m just having a lucky day or maybe this spiritual stuff works after all! Who knows?
I certainly can’t tell anyone else what to believe, but I know what kept me going that morning. There’s no question that I was experiencing a calm sense of detachment, alongside the frenetic maelstrom — a sense of being totally in control, whilst the external circumstances looked completely unpredictable and out of my control. Bringing a spiritual approach into the chaos brought clarity and focus. It presented both a solution and a strategy.
Spirituality is gloriously ineffable and inconveniently difficult to describe. Its presence in my life is as wondrously comforting as it is exceptionally challenging. There is so much paradox, confusion, inner conflict and yet ultimately, there is trust. Whether that trust is in myself or in a teacher or in a higher power, the result is that having trust helps to counter-act fear.
Fear hasn’t stopped showing up in my life, but with a dose of Spiritual Intelligence, I have another way to handle it. I have a softer, wiser voice that gives perspective. It keeps me calm enough to think straight and gives me the courage to keep going through very tough situations. It’s not the easiest path but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Good job really, as there seems to be no option to duck out now. What is going to happen, will happen, no matter what…