Dec 1, 2011

The Window Seat

Almost every time I’ve traveled by airplane in the past forty years, which is many, I’ve aimed myself at the window seat. When I board a plane I want to know that I can snuggle away from the madding crowd to a sanctuary of personal freedom, contemplation and inner peace.

The window seat is my heaven. Yet, how many of us who travel take the window for granted? Some have one glance out the window, then they shut the blind so others can’t see out. Some use the space and the light of the sky to read by. Others, like myself, stare endlessly out at the clouds, dreaming, contemplating deep within, of possibilities ... or nothing. Daydreaming. Meditating. At night, when all I can see in the window is a refection of myself, I feel safe in my aloneness.

At one time, to not have the window seat gave me claustrophobia. Now, if I do end up with an isle or the dreaded middle seat on short hops, I have learned to meditate to rest my mind. But the window is still, indeed, very special.

Air travel has only been on the planet for the past century. Imagine if Socrates or Plato had flown in a window seat, what poetry or insights would have emanated? How about Beethoven: what new melodies could he have captured from a trip through the clouds? What if one of the great minds of history, Shakespeare, Leonardo Da Vinci or Buddha, had boarded a 747 and flown in a window seat? What memorable sights would have inspired their creativity? Strangely though, not many artists, thinkers or philosophers who fly today treat us to a book, a composition of music, poetry or a work of art inspired by the bliss of air travel.

While most people detest travel for travel’s sake, I feel totally at home in an airport or at forty thousand feet. I don’t mind the check-in or the security. That’s because I’m fully prepared for it. The wait at the airport gate is fine for people watching or browsing the book stores. Then I board the aircraft where my window is waiting, and it’s a trip through the clouds to who knows where. It becomes my own special time. For me, it’s like floating on cotton wool. It gives me time to dream, to create in my own poetic imagination, to be among the etherial contemplation of the universe and far beyond; to be sailing, soaring, floating above the mind-numbing quagmire, of what seem like ants, on mother earth. For this, I imagine, is how the soul floats.

Some years ago I read the book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. It’s a metaphorical story about flying higher than your wildest dreams. It’s about breaking free from the social complications of cultural structure to find one’s own individuality. An inspiration of earthly dreams. It has also inspired many, not only to fly, but to be at one with flight. It really is the high flying bible. Try reading it while looking down on a sea of clouds.

As well as revery, of course I have seen some of the most spectacular sights from the air. Early one morning when en-route to Los Angeles, one pilot circled the Grand Canyon a couple of times because it was such a clear day. The great gash in the earth’s crust was never so dynamic in the low light. When flying to India, I remember looking down at the beautiful city if Istanbul. Like a great smile, the mosques were shining from one end of the city to the other. Flying along the string of islands in the turquoise South Pacific to reach the jewel of Bora Bora, was a sight to behold. One time when flying from Paris to London on a clear day, I was excited to see both sides of the English Channel through my one window. That small stretch of sea that so many lives had been lost over, seemed so close. Seeing the high glaciers from over Greenland on a flight to Vancouver was an awesome sight. They seem to reach up to greet you. Then there’s the Himalaya Mountains or the Golden Gate Bridge.

Many of us are dreamers, and when faced with a choice between reality or fantasy, we choose fantasy. Call it escapism. Call it the need to recharge. But how many of us are driven by our fantasies? Where do creative people go to regenerate their spark?  We all need to “chill-out”, and we all find it in different ways. One of mine is through flying, drifting, meditating and watching some of the most spectacular sights. Basically, I love having my head in the clouds (metaphorically) while sailing in a boat, riding a horse, watching a fire crackle, being totally absorbed in a beautiful symphony or art, hiking a mountain side, watching the ocean or flying in the clouds. It’s the essence of my regeneration process.

I couldn’t be more thankful that my work, my life and the time in which we live have given me air travel, for what other man-made, technological wonder could be as sweet?

The window seat comes highly recommended. But don’t just take it and not use it’s power. Settle in and let your mind fly along with your soul, contemplate your dreams and your bliss. And remember what magic there may be in observing an early morning sunrise at forty thousand feet.

“My soul is in the sky.”
- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

“I pick the prettiest part of the sky and I melt into the wing and then into the air, till I'm just soul on a sunbeam.”
- Richard Bach

“Within all of us is a varying amount of space lint and star dust, the residue from our creation.  Most are too busy to notice it, and it is stronger in some than others.  It is strongest in those of us who fly and is responsible for an unconscious, subtle desire to slip into some wings and try for the elusive boundaries of our origin.”
- K.O. Eckland, "Footprints On Clouds"

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
- Leonardo Da Vinci

“O! for a horse with wings!”
- William Shakespeare, Cymbeline