Losing It

Have you ever thought you’d just lose it? Patience? Sanity? Composure? The ability to just go on? Is this, really, not a part of our day, everyday? When you think about all that goes on in life, it’s a wonder any of us can hold it all together for any period of time. It lends a great deal of credence to the sheer will and determination of the human spirit.

Okay, so it’s Monday, and I’m travelling. The time is ripe for Scarlett to rant a little. But, as always, I have a moral.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to heaven when I finally leave this place, because I’m pretty sure I’ve already experienced hell. I have traveled on commercial airlines from the west coast to the east coast, from the east coast to the west coast, so many times, I cannot even begin to count, nearly a hundred thousand miles each year on one airline alone. There are more miles on other airlines, just to give you an idea.

Today, I headed from west to east, and was unable to secure an affordable ticket on my preferred airlines, which I hold a very high status with. I am treated quite well, I usually get a free first class upgrade, if not, at the very least, I get to select a premier seat with extra legroom, and I almost always get an aisle seat, which I prefer. My preferred airlines has major hubs in the center of the country, so no flight is ever more than three or four hours and I get to deplane, have a nice meal, stretch my legs, use a loo large enough to have at least some air circulation and that you can turn around in without acquiring bruises and abrasions, and all that good stuff. Then I get on another short flight and, voila, I’m there. My airlines has fairly decent, fairly nutritious meals, you can purchase for a fairly reasonable price, if you do happen to get stuck on a longer flight, and if you combine it with wine, there is a discount. Smile! Not the airline I flew today, their hubs are mostly in the west, or the south, or the southwest, so I flew an hour to Las Vegas, then forever to Baltimore, being offered only non-nutritious snacks along the way. No thank you, I’ll pass on the mixture of high-fructose corn syrup, enriched flour and hydrogenated oil-like substance in consumer-pleasing 100-calorie packets.

My new living arrangement and the distance I have to travel means I set my alarm for 1:30 AM this morning. No, I am not kidding, for a 6:00 AM flight I had to get up at 1:30 AM. No matter how I did the math, that’s how it worked out. And it just worked out, no surplus of time. To say I was a bit tired, even after two venti “Three-Region Blends” from Starbucks, one in the car, one at the gate, would be an understatement. I was asleep on the first flight before we pushed back from the gate. This is a skill I have nurtured and developed, sort of like suspended animation.

I developed my ability to sleep on demand out of utter will, pretty much, unless I am in my own bed and really NEED to sleep, then, for whatever reason, it eludes me. But, if I’m in a car or a plane or even a train, I can usually lapse into unconsciousness fairly easily. I developed this skill as a child quite deliberately. As a child, my dad drank, quite a bit sometimes, and then insisted on driving. My mom would state her fear, her concerns, but she never took a stand. I sensed the tension, the anxiety, and I knew enough to know the situation was dangerous and that I was powerless to do anything about it. My solution, my defense, was to lie down on the backseat and fall asleep. I figured if I were asleep, I wouldn’t see “it” coming, if I were asleep, I wouldn’t be cognizant of the moment of impact, or pain, or anything. I guess it worked.

Flying commercially is certainly not as dangerous as being a child in a car with a driver who has had one or two or a few too many. But, flying commercially, coach, I’m certain, is the hell I’ve been sentenced to as penance for the way I conduct myself on the highways of America, or for the bright, outward smile and the evil, dreadful thoughts that occasionally occupy my mind as I walk around the airport, or Wal Mart.

On my second flight, I slept off and on. I was awake far more than I would have preferred. Las Vegas to Baltimore is a pretty far piece, in one stretch. It’s a hell of a long time to be confined to a seat in extremely close proximity to anyone; it’s an unbearably long time to be confined to a small area with complete strangers! I was fortunate in my seat selection, I snagged one of the few remaining aisle seats and it was in an exit row, so I only had to share the row with one other person. She was quiet, of an average size, had bathed recently and had not recently ingested large amounts of curry, garlic or onion. Total win.

I was quite concerned about seating possibilities as I waited to board. There were many large passengers, and while I don’t normally have many prejudices, as an airline passenger, I admit, like TSA, I do some profiling of my own. I think it is wholly unfair to pay for a seat, including half of the armrest, and have the adjacent passenger oozing over the armrest and into my shoulder space. Worse, yet, is when the adjacent passenger is also protruding into my seat from under the armrest. There are body parts of strangers I’d prefer never to come into contact with; butt flab is high on that list. Clammy flesh is another. Equitably, wouldn’t it be appropriate for the airline to charge passengers with protruding body mass a pro-rated amount extra, say by the percentage of my allotted space they utilize, and then discounting my seat by that same amount. I’d be okay with the more rotund passenger just handing me a hundred dollar bill, which would appease me, unless it were an extraordinarily long flight, in which case, more would be appreciated. At what price do we value comfort? At what point do we lose it?

In the boarding area, there were also a number of visibly contagious people. If you are sick, you should stay home. Use your paid sick time for being sick and your paid vacation time for vacating. I am not fond of flying in a flying germ incubation capsule, where airborne infectants are recirculated throughout the entire cabin along with the smell of curry, garlic, onion and the nose hair curling odors of the unbathed. I take Echinacea on a regular basis, and I wash it down with Airborne, twice a day. I chant positive mantras about my health while flying. Until I fall asleep. I am usually able to ward off evil germs and remain healthy, I figure I’ve been exposed to just about everything and have developed quite an immune system. I do remember, though, sitting next to a woman on a very long flight that was excreting snot from every orifice. There were soiled tissues all over her tray, in her lap, on the armrest, I swear there was snot on the window next to which she sat. I leaned as far away as I possibly could, without encroaching on the occupant of the seat on the other side of me. At some point, I remember thinking “I am so getting sick”. I did. That slip in my positive thought process cost me dearly. Hence, the positive wellness mantra chant I do now. I’m sure I look severely emotionally disturbed as passengers pass, looking for a seat; I’m rocking back and forth, staring straight ahead, chanting, “I am well. I am well. I am well.” It works, on a couple of levels! I don’t get sick, and if there is going to be a vacant seat, usually, it’s next to me.

My other observation about the occupants of the boarding area yesterday; lots of crying babies and overburdened adult companions. Strollers, diaper bags, baby backpacks “I’m going to wear him onto the plane”, which, of course translates into “and then stand in the aisle for half an hour trying to wriggle free of the straps that entrap me while the line to board the plane stretches clear up the jet bridge and the spawn of the devil awakens from blissful slumber and becomes vociferously irate”. My daughter, who never cried or screamed as an infant, refers to airborne crying babies, fondly, as “screaming sacks of mucous”. I hope to have grandchildren some day, but that phrase does have me a little worried about the likelihood.

The worst passenger to spy in the boarding area, or, worse yet, approaching the (last remaining) vacant seat next to you, in coach, on a fully booked flight; an obese, un-bathed person with a screaming toddler strapped to their chest, numerous carry-on bags full of curdled baby formula, and, I’m sure, soiled diapers, and a Styrofoam container of Indian food. Don’t get me wrong, I love Indian food, just not the aftermath, in a confined area with re-circulated, stale air. I love Indian food. The rest, I tolerate, but only out of necessity. The combination of any more than one of these attributes is more than I can withstand. I could lose it.

Like I said, yesterday, my seat companion was none of the above. Score. But, it was still an epically long flight and my patience was being tested on that fact alone. There was, firstly, the yawning lady. She was seated in front of her husband, so she would stand up and turn to face the back of the plane. Me. She would make small, annoying conversation that older married couples seem to engage in, for whatever reason, sport, I think, from time to time. But mostly, she yawned. Open mouthed, gaping, noisy yawn. I deliberately chose not to go to dental school because I wasn’t fond of the idea of having to peer into someone’s mouth and see bits of chewed up food lodged in their teeth. And as she yawned she did her Ujjayi breath, the “ocean breath” exhalation technique used in yoga to dispel your body of impurities, but her impurities were aimed right towards me and I was not amused. God gave you two hands, one to hold onto the back of the seat to steady yourself on a moving aircraft, the other, to cover thy mouth with.

Then, there was turn around and stare guy, across the aisle, two rows up. Every time I looked up, his head was turned, he was craning his wrinkly, age-spotted neck, actually, to look directly at me. I gave him my special, wide-eyed “WHAT?!” stare a few times, with no effect. I even said “Hello?” once, still, no behavior modification. I went to the restroom at one point to make sure I didn’t have something unsightly on my face, that may clothes were all on (it was really early when I got dressed, perhaps I’d forgotten something). All appeared to be in order. Creeper.

Loud conversation lady was on the plane, too. She is almost always on the plane, talking in excessively loud tones about things she thinks makes her sound interesting. She speaks loud enough for everyone within ten seats to hear. I feel compelled to correct her in every way; her grammar, her flawed facts, her lack of logic, but, I bear it all in silence, focusing instead on what the people in front of me, and within my view are doing to entertain themselves. Do folks have any idea that everything they do is completely visible, and legible, from several rows back? There are e-readers, iPads and good, old-fashioned books. There was a nice looking young man, expensive inexpensive looking jeans, expensive inexpensive looking shoes, shoes, expensive inexpensive looking t-shirt, big fat wedding ring and, like me, two iPhones. I’d assume, like me, one for work, one for life. He was reading a James Patterson book at a furious rate. I glanced up, he’s on chapter two. I glance up again; he’s on chapter four, then seven, eight, fourteen. Perhaps he was just flipping pages, but he appeared to be reading each page fully.

There is always page flipping guy, and I figure he’s just excessively nervous about flying and flips rapidly through the free airline magazine to distract his thoughts of doom, flipping forwards, then backwards, cramming it back into the seat pocket and flipping frantically through the SkyMall. Then the menu. Then the emergency card, until he realizes what he’s reading. Then the fine print on the bottom of the barf bag. Then repeat.

Back to butt flab, not that I’m totally immune, I’ll admit, but my butt flab fits nicely, and comfortably, into a pair of size six jeans, sans muffin top. Do people seriously not pay attention to the comings and goings of other airline passengers? There are only so many johns, you can count them on one hand, meaning you can use the other hand to count the number of people heading up the aisle for an open john. The trick is to have fewer fingers occupied on the hand counting passengers than the hand used to count johns. Simple math, my friends, simple math. I seized an opportunity because I can hear the subtle shift in the engine RPM and feel the ever so slight, ever so gradual descent towards the runway begin, meaning, we have roughly forty minutes until we land and at about thirty minutes before landing, we are going to be ordered to our seats where we are to remain, strapped in. I get up and stroll to the back of the plane and right into the john the lady who boarded the plane with the “screaming sack of mucous” conveniently strapped to her chest, just vacated. She, thankfully, had done a decent job cleaning up after the exploded diaper mess, having used, if my olfactory senses are as keen as I think they are, cinnamon scented baby butt wipes. I did my job, not requiring any cinnamon scented baby butt wipes, and exited. To my disbelief, there are like twelve people, all profiled as “larger passengers”, doing a lurching sort of zombie walk up the aisle towards the single, empty john I just vacated. I had to pass each and every one of these folks in the narrow aisle, that I happen to know, is comfortably wide enough for someone who wears size six jeans. Anything greater than that requires “slalom hips” to negotiate lest you smack your saddlebags into the occupants of the aisle seats, much to their chagrin. I encounter a woman who is to be kind, nowhere near a size six. I contemplate, how, exactly, I am to negotiate my way past her. The only solution, I’m afraid, was to squeeze past, butt to butt. As I squeezed past, at one point, I was not so solidly wedged between one of her butt cheeks and the other, yes, I had slipped between the crack. OMG. Kill me. That is a level of intimacy that would embarrass me even with the one I am intimate with.

Six hours of all of this, and I am about to lose it. Not barf bag lose it. Not head exploding, making the eleven o’clock news, air marshals having to remove me physically from the airplane, emergency landing and blacklist kind of lose it. But closer to that than the barf bag version of losing it. It is a completely, totally, overwhelmingly helpless feeling, being stuck in a situation you can do nothing about and knowing you have five hours and fifty three minutes more to endure, strapped in a seat adjacent to people you’re certain should not be procreating, one hundred and seventy four of them.

Are there other situations in our life that leave us feeling similarly helpless and overwhelmed? Frustrations with situations we find ourselves in; empty marriages or relationships, dead-end jobs with thankless employers, failed diets, not enough time to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in any one day, standing in line for three hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles, being stuck in an elevator between floors? You know, that totally overwhelming, totally helpless situation. Of course, we all experience that feeling. How do you cope? How do you rectify this feeling?

Our natural state is one of happiness. That we aren’t often in this state is as a result of our ruling thought processes. In a world that seems to be one of fast paced, clambering for survival, fast paced struggling to move ahead and moving backwards, fast paced efforts for recognition, for accomplishment, for making the next milestone in an endless march of milestones leading to oblivion and never to freedom, there is an overwhelming sense of having lost it. Alas, there is a way out. Changing your ruling thought process.

Whether in the line at DMV, on a six-hour flight with the armpit of humanity, or in a dead end job, or a dead end relationship, you are still in control. You are in control of the single, most powerful tool in the world; your thoughts. Your thoughts rule your world, your thoughts are capable of changing your path of drudgery into a highway paved with gold. Like everything else, managing your ruling thoughts takes practice and skill. It’s just a matter of losing it, losing your negative, ruling thoughts.

You must first know the inclination of your regular thoughts, and this can only be done by carefully, and habitually listening to the thoughts that spill through your mind. It is amazing how many thoughts we have that slip past without recognition, without, well, thought. Start paying attention to the conversation in your head. Simply identify ruling thoughts that are contrary to what you desire, and correct them. It’s simply a matter of losing it, the thoughts that are contrary to what you desire.

I find it especially helpful to spend a few minutes, early in the day, maybe before even getting out of bed, “programming” my thoughts for the day. Meditation is one way to program your thoughts in a calm and deliberate fashion. While I find meditation helpful, I tend to have a wandering mind and spend more time trying to empty my mind of random, generic thoughts before I can fill it with deliberate and constructive, ruling thoughts. I find it a bit more constructive to write my desired “ruling thoughts” down, mechanically, with pencil and paper. Confirming your desired, ruling thoughts, also referred to as affirmations, can be highly effective, if done regularly and if done with conviction and intent. Again, this takes practice, like all habits, and replacing bad habits, with good, takes time, commitment, and perseverance. It really does just require losing it, the bad habit of detrimental ruling thoughts. Just lose it.

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