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How To Get Through Turbulence

I don't like turbulence.

And yes, I've heard the statistics and facts. I know that the only possible turbulence capable of bringing down a plane--and it's extraordinarily rare--comes from a powerful storm; but for years, pilots have routinely learned how to avoid or fly around storms, so it's a non-issue. Despite this knowledge and an especially comforting article by my favorite aviation educator, turbulence continues to be profoundly unsettling.

When it is at its most extreme, I immediately set my gaze on the flight attendants' faces to see if I detect panic. Are they scrambling and nervous, or is it business as usual? It’s always the latter. I'm equally amazed by my fellow passengers who sleep or read through it, completely unaffected by the violent shaking and twisting of our 400,000 pound vessel in the sky.

It's fair to say that turbulence may never be comfortable for me; I have, however, figured out how to get through it.

On route to my destination one time, we hit a particularly rough patch of air, and the discomfort was immediate. It started with the kind of sudden drop where you feel your heart in your throat. Every part of me tensed up, the fight or flight responded kicked into high gear but so far, the only casualties of the choppy air that day were my rational thoughts.

I looked down at my hands; they were clutching the arm rests so tightly, as though I could hold the plane steady with my bare strength. "How ridiculous!" I thought, to think I had any control at all! And that's when it hit me: I didn't have control. Whether I held on tightly, bracing for dear life or not--the plane would do what it was going to do.

So I let go.

Instantly, I released all the tension in my fingers, hands and arms. I placed them gently on the armrest, and then relaxed my face muscles, my chest and stomach, my thighs, legs and feet. I made myself as weightless as possible, and then said to myself (quietly, of course): "Okay, plane. If you are going to drop to the ground, then drop to the ground. I can't stop you."

Well, you can guess the end of that story: nothing happened, except a feeling of calm and relaxation for me. The circumstances hadn't changed, but I had--and that made my circumstances change.

Whether you're in the air or on the ground, the lesson here applies. The next time you're late for something and stuck in gridlock traffic, notice your hands. Are they tightly clutching the steering wheel? Try releasing that tension and surrendering to the circumstances; after all, it's not going to get you there any faster. You might as well relax your body, play some music and enjoy the ride.

The same technique could apply to how you deal with an unruly teenager. Are you wringing your hands, desperately hoping they bring their grades up? Or perhaps you're making yourself sick with worry when they're out late at night, wondering if they're being safe and responsible. Unfortunately, making yourself sick only serves to, well, make you sick; and hand-wringing won't improve your teen's GPA.

So let go. Throughout our lives, we encounter turbulence that is beyond our control: the way others react to us, drivers who cut us off, inclement weather, a toddler's tantrum, losing a job because of "downsizing", among many other examples. What if, amidst this chaos, you could fully understand the limits of your control and choose to feel okay? You can.

Make a choice to relax your mind and body, surrender to what you cannot control, and throw all your energy into that which you can. Turbulence may continue around you, but you'll be flying through smoother air.



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