On Understanding Turbulence

Recently on a flight I saw an interesting example of our thinking and level of understanding creating our personal reality. The plane had just flown into some turbulence and as I was enjoying the rocking and swooping motions, I overheard passengers complaining and opened my eyes to see a lady across the aisle gripping her seat in terror, her body rigid.

It just hit me. Oh. She’s experiencing fearful thinking and doesn’t understand how safe she really is.

When I was young my parents took my brother and I on a trip to Disneyland. On the flight back we experienced heavy turbulence and I didn’t know what was going on. My dad explained that when planes fly through different weather conditions it causes the ride to be bumpy. It’s not dangerous, even if it feels like it might be. The plane is designed to handle it; it’s a normal part of flying.

It just clicked in my mind, in that moment, that since turbulence is weather that’s not dangerous to the plane, there’s nothing for me to be afraid of. I didn’t have to do anything to not be afraid, I simply wasn’t fearful because I knew the truth of what was happening.

During this tubulence the scared passenger and I were living through the same outer circumstances. My side of the plane was no less bouncy than hers.

If our circumstances were the cause of our experience then we would both be having the same terrified experience. Logically speaking the heavier the turbulence, the higher our level of fear.

This is the outside-in model we all grew up with: something out there in the world can make me feel something inside my mind and body. It’s simply not true.

Our consciousness brings our thoughts to life as reality. Because we had different thoughts and a different level of understanding, we inevitably experienced different realities. I was completely calm and enjoying the turbulence while she was terrified and hated it.

Despite what we’re led to believe, we can only ever experience our thinking. Our thoughts about turbulence, not the turbulence itself, is the cause of our experience.

If she understood (not just understood intellectually but really got it the way one gets a joke) that she is completely safe even though the ride feels bumpy, she wouldn’t be able to take her fearful thoughts seriously and her experience would change in an instant.

She would effortlessly bounce back to her natural state of calm. She would be free to feel all the ups and downs while secure in a deeper understanding that the turbulence is not the cause of her fear. Her fear comes from her thinking about the turbulence; nothing more, nothing less.

And if you haven’t already guessed, plane turbulence is just a helpful metaphor. It works the same way with our emotional ‘turbulence’. Once we really get that our default nature is peace of mind, health and wisdom, life looks different to us. We see how safe we really are, even when the ride feels bumpy.

We don’t worry when we’re in a low mood because we know it’s temporary. We have an awareness that we’re simply caught up in our thinking and that thinking is always changing. We get that our moods are simply internal weather. We understand that there’s nothing to do but wait it out.

The same way planes are designed to handle weather turbulence, we’re designed to handle emotional turbulence. Our moods rise and fall yet we’re fundamentally rooted in our innate health, it can get covered up but it can’t go anywhere. As soon as we see through our thoughts to the space in which they arise, we’re right back to enjoying the ride, however bumpy it may be.