Facing the Little Death

…I’m leaving’ on a jet plane,
Don’t know when I’ll be back again.
Oh babe, I hate to go.”
-John Denver
(but I recall the Peter, Paul & Mary version more) 

I’ve written a lot about fear, no matter if it’s the allure of fear or conquring fear for various reasons. I even wrote an article about clown fear, way back when.

This isn’t any of those. This is about my fear, and facing it. I’m a fan of penning an article that gives you, the reader, clinical data and the tools you need to accomplish something, while peppering fun exhortation throughout. It is still my hope that you will find something within these words which you can apply to your own life—maybe to your own fear—but I felt it’s time to put myself “on the couch” and examine my fear of flying.

Why? Two reasons. First is because self-disclosure is a good and healthy thing, especially when most of the time I’m exploring a topic that I find valuable but not always deeply personal. Second is because I’m flying this weekend. I’m so excited for the trip; my daughter gets to see her cousins, I get to hang with my awesome brother-in-law, we all get to spend quality time with Gram and the wife’s southern cousins—a fun bunch in their own right. I’m hating the idea of flying there and back. Hate. Hate. Hate. Which means fear.

Fear Leads to Hate

Fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.
-Yoda, Star Wars 

Great. So I’m walking the path of the Dark Side. Where did it all start? The same place all fear begins; the desire for control. I do not believe that I am a “control freak” but I do note a distinct desire for personal control over things that affect my personage. (But, ask my wife. She may say that I’m totally a control freak.)

What I mean by “control over things that affect my personage” is that I find within myself a deep need to have a hand in shaping the results of events which I will suffer the consequences of or be held accountable for. Falling to my death from 30,000 feet with nary the breath to scream fits under “suffering the consequences.” Call me a control freak if you like, but there it is.

Let’s add another layer to the terror cake; powerlessness. I am blessed enough to have one which consists of a wife, a daughter and two cats. The cats will not be traveling this time, but the wife and daughter will. The only thing more frightening than falling to my death is being powerless to stop them from falling to their deaths.

I’ve always been a protector-defender-mother wombat-type of guy. Maybe it’s a bit of a Super Hero complex from being weaned on comic books. Either way, for me, flying with family is less comforting than flying solo.

This terror cake is topped with a butter cream frosting made with pure irrationality. I’ve heard all the statistics about driving being more dangerous. I know that the pilot doesn’t want to die either. Rational facts and figures applied to irrational fears are like lip balm; they work but they need reapplication to really be beneficial. My own mind gets in the way of successful reapplication because my wit kicks into high gear when I’m nervous. “More people die in car accidents,” they say. “Yes,” I reply, “but less people fall from the sky in car accidents!” My fear of heights mated with my fear of flying years ago. Their children live on my irrationality.

I realize that it may be hard to grasp how my lack of control, powerlessness to protect my family and irrationality all add up to my fear of flying. I’ve painstakingly diagramed it below, to aid in the understanding process.


Balm Throwing 101 

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
-Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. 

by Albrt89

Control Building Commitment – I will focus on that which I can control. I will bring music to control what I hear, gum to control what I taste (and combat the ear thing) and fun stuff to control what I think about. I will keep mental track of how many times I use the tools below to push my fear away successfully and report it on the inter-web when I land.

Power Focusing Commitment – I will refine and increases my sense of personal power and use it against that which I need to face; fear. I will bring case notes to finish to build a sense of accomplishment, and use a clock to break the trip into smaller milestones. I will celebrate achieving each milestone by taking a break from my work to read or play with my daughter.

Anti-Irrationality Commitment – I will face the irrationality of my fear and master it, not let it master me. I will bring a fun, engrossing book to distract myself. I will use mindfulness exercises to keep me rooted in the present. I will find three things that I do enjoy about the moment I’m in every time that I fear.

This is what I commit to doing. Do you have a suggestion or a trick you use to get over flight fear? Comment away. I can use all the help that I can get.

Tomorrow morning, at the usual time which I post these articles, I will be many thousands of miles above the Earth, facing my fear. Unlike Paul in Dune, I will permit it to pass under me, since I’ll be so far up. I’ve already turned my inner eye to see its path. I’m certain that where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. Well, me and my wife and daughter. And the other passengers. And the pilot, we all know he doesn’t want to die.

But what if…(shut up, fear.)


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