Who believes in coincidences?
We all have it sometimes. Something happens and you get this overwhelming feeling that it was meant to be. The Universe, God, or some other higher power has put some people on your way and allowed certain things to happen to make you realize something. I’ve had this experience very recently.
Stranger on a plane
Last week I sat on a plane, just starting listening to my favourite podcast, all relaxed and ready to fly, when a lady walked up to me. She seemed very insecure, almost shaking, and was emotional. She shared with me that it was her first flight and she felt terrified. Her husband was sitting in front of the plane, and she was trying to trade seats as otherwise she might not be able to fly.
I looked at the man sitting in our row, but he basically ignored the lady and chose not to react at all. I felt touched but had also this dilemma. My inner dialogue went: “I can let her sit with her husband, probably I should… but I kind of like my place… I paid for it, and if she stays next to me, I’m sure I can help her manage the fear”. And attempting to make myself feel better about this slightly uncooperative decision, I told myself: “her husband knows she’s afraid of flying, so he will surely arrange for her a seat next to him. In a couple of minutes he’ll come by to pick her up. But before that happens, I talk to her and set her up for a safe, and perhaps even enjoyable, flight”.
So, I smiled, answered I rather stay close to my luggage, and invited her to sit next to me. I introduced myself and mentioned I’m a therapist, and whenever she needs me, I’m there for her. We can talk, I know how to help her and I’m sure she’ll be all fine.
Lady smiled back and sat down on her original seat.
We exchanged a few words, and I went on to the podcast. Eyes closed, having full focus on the topic of today’s episode. At some point, however, I felt somehow strange and I looked at her – all stiff, desperately holding on to the chair in front of her. As the plane was taking off, she sat there like a poor, frightened animal. With her coat on her head, covering her eyes, so that she won’t see the worst things she’s now imagining…
What fear of flying (and others) does to you
That made me once more realize what fear does to our body. It’s such a strong emotion with very explicit physiological and psychological expressions. Not without reason fear has been classified by Paul Eckman as one of six primar, universal emotions. It signals a harm or a threat and activates your body to deal with the situation. It triggers fight, flight or freeze responses. It doesn’t even matter whether the threat is real or imagined, your body responds to it anyway.
Fear is there to keep us safe, but it can also have adverse implications for our well-being. It can become a trap and prevent us from doing something we’d otherwise enjoy or benefit from. Even though the emotion is so real and visible, we still have a say when it comes to defining its trigger. The same object or event can be perceived by some as very threating, causing a fearful reaction, whereas for others it can be a source of pleasure, or cause no emotional responses at all. Just how the flying was for the lady and for me.
Law of control
I gently touched her arm and talked to her. We started with the basics – breathing deeply. Just doing that, focusing on nothing else but own breathing. And words of encouragement. I told her she’s doing great, and she can absolutely do this. After a moment, she removed the coat from her head and the conversation began to flow.
Of course, we discovered she was afraid of not being in control and afraid of dying on a plane, as she heard of airplane crushes. I told her that we’ve actually passed one of the two most dangerous stages of a flight, and she did terrific. And I shared with her what I learnt during my training, and what I truly believe in: “Your thoughts control your feelings, your feelings control your actions, and your actions make up your events which create your reality” – but basically it all starts with a thought. It’s called “law of control”.
We reflected on the topic of control: there is no control except for control over your thinking. And we are all free to choose – to rationalize why we feel so afraid, so bad, or talk ourselves out of it. And since it’s proven that only 4% of what we worry about actually turns into reality, we can better take control over our thinking and think better thoughts. And by that have a better reality. Instead of imagining the worst thing that could happen, I asked the lady on a place to imagine the best thing. What are the places she wants to visit but couldn’t drive there as they are too far away? Which new doors open up for her now that she’s free to travel on a plane? How much time she gets back doing this, that she could now spend on whatever she wants…
Shift fear to excitement
A smile lit her face up as she was talking about it. That’s what happens when we learn to think better thoughts and shift focus to a more compelling vision.
She seemed so much more relaxed and confident that she was even joking and laughing. Surprisingly, once her husband came by to check on her (actually much later than I expected), she told him she’s doing fine.
We carried on talking about how fear is physiologically no different than excitement, and how we acquire fears. In a relaxed state we could even explore and uncover the origin of that fear of flying. That actually amazed me – even without a full hypnotic session the lady was able to identify what and when made her fear heights and flying when she was a little girl.
All pieces fall into alignment
I was so proud of her transforming. Seeing her smiling and relaxed already half-way, and after the flight, and how grateful she was for the support really made my day.
I was amazed how all small pieces came into alignment.
Lady leaving that plane was very different to the one who entered it. And myself, I stopped feeling guilty about not trading the seats, and started to feel truly grateful: for being able to help this woman, for choosing this wonderful profession, and even for being a bit stubborn that day and choosing to stay on my seat.