While boarding my last flight from Atlanta to Boston, I caught a glimpse of a well-known Atlanta hip hop icon.
Before he donned his dark designer shades for boarding, I knew it was Jermaine Dupri.
As I boarded after first class, I noticed I was seated next to his travel companion. Jazzed and trying not to seem too enthusiastic, I asked a few strategically down-played questions. Turns out, I had the pleasure of sitting next to his manager during the flight.
It was not the tailwinds or the high altitude, but for the duration of the flight I was truly giddy about the prospects of meeting Mr. Dupri. After landing at Logan International Airport, I calmly and plainly asked the manager something to the effect of, “With all respect, would it be okay if I fist bumped Jermaine Dupri?” He was cool with it and it all went down at baggage claim. I reached out and delivered my fist bump to Mr. Dupri, smiled, and I said, “ATL.”
Days later, I still feel dazzled by the whole situation and it has left me asking myself, “How did that even happen?” I travel often for work and pleasure; this last round of trips had me noticing the prevalence of televisions, seat back entertainment systems and smart phones.
Nearly everyone seated at the concourse gate was flipping through items on their phones and most were wearing headphones, minding their own business. I was looking around. I imagine that is how I saw Jermaine Dupri.
I live and work in a meditation retreat center in rural Vermont; I have a lot of discretion over what I choose to tune in to while in residence. On my outbound trip, the first thing I noticed at the airport was the television news media reporting a story about ISIS and the possibility that the group may be selling organs of those captured and massacred.
Within 20 seconds of sitting down at the gate, I thought to myself, “Wow, I do not want to know about that. What has the world come to?” I acknowledge that the news is a powerful vehicle and, at times, a necessity to educate the masses about the atrocities in the world. At the time of hearing this headline story, my heart broke when acknowledging that this extreme violence is so commonplace, and it has become largely acceptable to hear even over breakfast.
While not fully connected to the latest news, I connect with my community, the people I live with, and those around me wherever I go. Within the last six months, I have developed a fear of taking off when flying in airplanes. To help me settle into my body, I ask the person seated next to me to hold my hand as we take off. I touch the warmth in my heart, acknowledge their warmth, and then ask for their help. No one has ever declined the request.
On the flight mentioned above from Atlanta to Boston, two people held my hand, a married couple; the wife said after letting go, “You remind us of our daughter.” On a different trip, we experienced some turbulence mid-flight and the person who held my hand during take off said, “Let me know if you need my hand again.” The simple act of kindness smoothes the experience of flying, and for that brief time in the sky, it feels like I make real friends on the flight.
Connection occurs by physically acknowledging each other. For example, when the plane experiences turbulence, I practice tonglen. I breathe in any nervousness of those around me and breathe out smooth sails carried by the winds of unconditional confidence. I feel and see you. I look at those around me and greet them while looking them in the eyes. Smiling is a priceless way to express my warmth and happiness for others. I open my heart to those around me.
Even on the Boston T during rush hour, luggage and all, I caught myself wondering about the neighboring passengers, “How is she doing? I wonder what his day is like?” When someone speaks to me, I listen with my whole body; my toes become a microphone. I watch how the person holds themselves. What else is their body communicating to me? I place my awareness on those around me. We live in a fast and competitive world; I walk even slower now and take the time to look. I might look like I am in a different world, but I am really in your world and I see you right there.
The same is true for nature and the beauty in our everyday environments. When traveling recently through the Intermountain West in Colorado, our charter bus darted from one small town to the next. The grand vistas were of another realm with large swaths of snow-covered evergreen masses extending skyward. The landscape called to mind the late Bob Ross; I could hear his paintbrush gently dot the canvas as he would softly say, “happy trees.” The magic in life is all around us, what do you look for? Do you hone your eyes for seeing it? I see you there and say “hello.” Maybe we’ll even hold hands on a flight one of these days.
Author: Jacquelyn Renée Schneider
Editor: Travis May