Airports are great teachers. They reveal layer upon layer of neurosis.
If this sounds fanciful, pay attention next time you stagger through an airport door. Notice if you quiver with fear as you pass through security or worry as you wait at the boarding gate. Notice your mind as you board the plane — are you all worked up by now with the strain of trying to look normal in a stuffy, cramped cabin surrounded by strangers?
What can we possibly learn about ourselves in this mental chaos?
Quite a bit, it seems.
Airports as Self-Development Centers
Recently, it dawned on me that airports are vastly underrated self-development centers. These secular ashrams have their own acolytes (airport staff and passengers), rituals (security and safety), chants (announcements and welcome aboard spiels) and communal eating spaces. They are also gauges of psychological maturity because they highlight our anxieties as well as test our patience, courage and humility.
Spiritual teacher Ram Dass says if you think you’re enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents. He could well have added that if you still think you’re enlightened after a week with your parents, then spend time at an airport. You may be surprised to find that your physical baggage is accompanied by a ton of mental cargo that would never pass an airport sanity-detector.
Airports force us to confront fear in all its guises – claustrophobia, agoraphobia, loss of control, boredom, abandonment and, of course, the mother of all fears: death. In this respect, airports are a bricks and mortar guru.
Death and the Universe
I learned something about death (and the universe) on a recent trip from Melbourne to Hobart and I owe it to the airport guru.
I boarded the flight to find people already seated. The couple in my row explained they’d been on the plane for hours because ferocious winds had stopped the aircraft landing and it was forced to return to Melbourne. They looked anxious and the woman told me it had been the scariest flight of her life.
Please note: I am a plane passenger one runway from a strait jacket, even on a good flight, so this did not augur well.
Sure enough, as we descended the winds were insane and the plane struggled. The woman in my row began to pray as children screamed and anxious parents tried to placate them. I expected to see Elvis at any moment.
Yes, you read that right, bottled truffles.
It was surreal. The plane was struggling to land, people were screaming, I was terrified and all my fellow passenger could talk about was bottled truffles. In the horror, I became aware of a strange feeling. I can only describe it as a combination of boredom and terror.
A billion years later, the plane landed and we were still alive and my neighbour was still talking about bottled truffles. Perhaps I had died and this was my penance.
This was when I realized, with absolute certainty, that the universe has a sense of humor. I also learned that even in the face of abject terror, I could still function –- even if it meant learning all I ever wanted to know about bottled truffles.
Airports are unexpected avenues for self-discovery.
See what you notice.