July 7, 2013

A Wing & A Prayer. ~ Barb Pickl

“There is an art to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

~Douglas Adams 

My passion for flight is inherent. I was raised in a family of aviators, enrolled in flight training early in my youth, and had executed my first solo flight by the time most teens are reluctantly allowed the keys to the family car on chaperoned Friday date night.

My father had a flight mantra: “A good pilot keeps one eye on the instrument panel and the other on the horizon. But a skilled pilot really flies by the seat of his pants.”

Practicing touch-n-go landings resembled the tingling excitement of a new love affair; swooping down gently to momentarily kiss the earth, then playfully scampering off, only to circle the pattern and return to teasing the earth and sky once more.

As a young girl, I also had to trust myself enough to catapult a heavy machine off the ground and into the weightlessness of the sky.

Flying solo provided a connection to the bliss of infinite possibility. I could feel the heart of God: be alone and not alone. The purring breath of the engine became my mantra, silencing words of belittlement and outbursts of anger.

Solo, I could not be touched. Even alone, I deflected bad weather when it suddenly struck.

Flying solo was my refuge from an abusive yet wealthy family life.

My carefully outlined personal flight plan didn’t last though; it soon faltered off-course. In aerodynamic terms, I unwillingly found myself in a situation, or angle, where the reality of gravity crumbled. I had “stalled.”

In other words, I was free falling head-first into the asphalt runway.

If I were to survive, both physically and spiritually, I would need to remain grounded and off the radar for a very long time.

For years I was stuck, abandoned in a tiny, dimly lit place, tucked away in a distant corner where lost or damaged baggage is put: out of public view. Carefully engineered attempts to flee left me exhausted. My spiritual fuel tanks were either bone dry or perilously top-heavy.

“The only time an aircraft has too much fuel on board is when it is on fire.”

 ~ Sir Charles Kingsford Smith 

That internal fire, (plus pure Midwestern orneriness,) ignited my journey of meditation. Inspired by two wise, compassionate mentors, I crawled through stacks of books, beginning the process of tearing down my prison of shame, anger, abuse, fear, and self-loathing

Meditation is a learned skill, and I’m still wet behind the ears. It’s not a “fix,” a panacea, because it requires infinite patience and complete dedication. But if you truly want to adjust your altitude, you must start by overhauling your attitude.

Better yet, it’s not a “one size fits all” process.

Daily walking meditations hone mindfulness and gratitude. The demon monkey-mind begrudgingly settles down once exposed to sunlight and fresh air. Occasionally,  I dare to abandon my shoes, close my eyes, throw my shoulders back and sit Padmasana.

And just breathe. I practice smiling, too.

Then I’ll bend forward, bury my face in the grass and nourish my scrawny soul. In these moments, I acknowledge the reality of being truly present and accountable.

I’m free again in the wet dirt, staggered with gratitude as I’m grounded by the earth beneath me and the vast sky above, (I love dirt, but be aware of red ants—it’s always a package deal.)

Most days when I sit in meditation, it feels mechanical, consumed by fear and doubt. It seems I’ll never understand or get off the ground. But that’s okay—it’s practice.

Many days I don’t sit, but rather collapse into a painful heap, sobbing with grief and shame. Perhaps I’m too broken; the wings have fallen off for good. Another crash-n-burn. And that’s okay, too – the equipment is a bit outdated and rusty.

 Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

Then some days as I sit, my dharma gate gently and without expectation swings wide open. For a few precious moments, I’m whole again, confident in the path of wisdom, loving kindness and that this journey will unfold organically. I seek refuge…and I’m embraced by the unconditional warmth of being welcomed back home.

Home. Right here and now and just as I am: worn out but still breathing.

As Thich Nhat Hanh states with such powerful simplicity: “Mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha that is within us…makes it possible for us to understand, to accept, to love, and to relieve suffering. That is why the island of mindfulness is our best refuge.”

Instead of logging a flight plan, worrying about the vectors or final destination, I now seek the wisdom of the Dharma.

Instead of a “pre-flight warm-up,” I’m learning the path of yoga. I’ve discovered the gift of a wise, compassionate teacher as a form of physical meditation, to ensure all structural systems are connected and appropriately disconnected, so as to perform to the best of their ability.

More importantly, I’m finally learning how to really fly by first looking toward a limitless horizon within, and I’m doing it by simply sitting on the seat of my pants.

“In our dreams we are able to fly…and that is a remembering of how we were meant to be.”

~ Madeleine L’Engle 


Barb Pickl is a Midwest storyteller, relinquishing static comfort to explore the rich Wisconsin farmland and seeking wisdom in her “seasoned” (aka single, middle-aged and well versed in hospice) journey. Assuredly, she has only one cat. Barb is often found face-down on her yoga mat, writing, reading, or just walking and relearning how to breathe. Forever cradling a cuppa of joe, she surveys every local farmers market, chatting up the vendors, profoundly appreciative of those craftsmen of our Earth. She takes special delight by “treating” old folks to a meal: yep- sitting with them and eager to hear their story. Good tales, every one. Years ago she saw a display of cheap, “personalized” coffee mugs at a gas station. Barb: “mysterious” and “protector from fire.” ‘Nuff said. She can be reached via Facebook and Twitter.


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Assistant Editor: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Bryonie Wise


{Photo: via Pinterest}

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