. . . and sometimes the magic doesn’t.
So there I was last Thursday with the temperature at 97 degrees here in New York and the heat index at 117, with the air-conditioning humming away in my apartment at least. I’d gotten up at 6 am to finish necessary tasks prior to leaving, had finished them, and was ready to leave at 3:30 pm when the driver from the car service called from downstairs.
I decided to wear shorts and a T-shirt out to the airport and change into my traveling clothes out there, the heat and humidity being so brutal I figured I’d be drenched in sweat by the time I got down the three flights of steps in the non-air-conditioned hall of this 175-year-old Federal building in GreenwichVillage.
That worked well, and I took a seat at the gate and read on my Kindle for an hour before boarding at 6 pm for my flight to the Burbank airport north of Los Angeles.
But about 6:15, lightning-thick thunderstorms hit the city. We taxied out and queued up waiting for takeoff anyway and there we sat encapsulated in our Airbus 320 while the storms raged above us for 2 hours and 40 minutes–till it headed back to the terminal, as per new FAA regulations that don’t allow passengers to be held in a plane for more than three hours.
And there we waited for a bit less than an hour while the plane was refueled (after the lightning died down), followed by a reboarding.
This time we sat on the concrete for a bit more than two hours, finally taking off about 12:40 am, some six hours later than planned.
I don’t sleep well on airplanes, in fact mostly not at all. And that both my seat mates, who apparently didn’t share that with me, and slept soundly most of the way, left the television screens on the backs of the seats in front them on and flashing didn’t help much either. Nor did the cone of light that spilled over onto me from the overhead light of the dedicated reader behind me.
I’d called one of my contacts in Pasadena from the airport during our refueling and told him that though I’d try, I might well not be able to make the short talk I was supposed to give to a group of solvent entrepreneurs the next day at 1 pm.
In the air, As we passed the 6 am mark New York time, droning on at 36,000 feet, I did the best I could with continuing to let go and allowing my body to try to find at least some amount of rest.
Now, meditation is not something you practice in order to induce sleep. It is essentially a state of relaxed awareness, of clarity, of presence. But I used a kind of dumbed down and cereal-box form of it, along with progressive body relaxation, to drain some of the weariness away, which was rapidly approaching exhaustion. I followed my breath, but only loosely, without concentration, on each exhale simply said silently, “Rest.” Or, switching after a while, “Peace.” And alternated between the two.
And with that, along with the extra-leg-room seat I had booked, for which I was then deeply grateful, I managed to avoid complete depletion.
And we landed at Burbank at a bit after 4 am local time, 7 am New York time. I was in my hotel by 4:30 am local time, and it was 5:30 by the time I was checked in, unpacked, and washed up. I had now been up going on 26 hours straight. I wanted to speak for these people at 1 pm, but knew that I simply couldn’t, that I couldn’t grab four or five hours sleep, get up, get to where I needed to be, speak, then get back to the hotel and get ready for the keynote speech I had to deliver that night at the opening of the three-day retreat I was scheduled into, and what’s more then sit as one part of a two-person panel and take questions for an hour and a half more.
Sometimes the magic works, sometimes the magic doesn’t.
So I surrendered. I gave up. I let go of my self-will and accepted that I just couldn’t manage this. I called my contact—I knew he’d be asleep, with his bell off, and that his voicemail would pick up—and told him that I couldn’t make it, please give everyone my apologies and tell them I would try to make it up to them somehow later.
I’m glad I was able to find what measure of rest I could on the flight, after a long, demanding day, glad I have experience in ways to do that. And glad that I know how to surrender when finally it becomes clear that simply trying to bull my way through isn’t going to work, is only going to hurt me. That I know how to let go.
Which is something I had to learn a long time ago, and am glad that I did. Even though I take it right up to the edge on occasion. But not over, thankfully. Not over. Not anymore.