Saturday, July 7, 2007

Mile-High Vipassana

My friend Robin RedBreast who's as feather-footed as the name implies told me recently that he doesn't read my blog much because its not personal enough for him. So this post is also for him.

I recently flew to Japan - only my third international flight since about July last year - (believe me I'm not complaining about not travelling cattle class more often). On the flight out to Tokyo, I realised that these long flights can have an unintended side effect which can be salutary or stressful, depending on one's relationship with the truth about oneselves. They can create the conditions for a (sometimes involuntary) bout of introspection.

On a ten hour flight, once you've been forced to switch off the phone, the movies are ones you've already seen or - if its United - ones you wouldn't ever want to, when the laptop battery runs out having lasted only half as long as you thought it should and when you've run through that wonderfully interesting book twice as fast as you hoped you would, there really isn't much to do other than switch on your thoughts. Some people can get lost in music (the iPod's battery can generally last an entire flight) but I find I do a lot of my thinking when the only distraction is music.

There are other uses of an iPod too of course. I use mine to ward off surprise attacks from your friendly-neighbourhood-seat-extroverts. You know. Those people who think that nothing could be better than to have perfect strangers belted into place next to them for hours on end. All the better to get to know them and make-new-friends! Yay! Don't get me wrong, I'm mostly a friendly guy but I find starting a conversation with strangers on flights is rather like the Chinese saying about a rescuer becoming responsible for a rescuee for life. Most people assume that because you said "Hi" to them at the beginning you've effectively promised to engage them in conversation through the rest of the flight. So having been burned by such strangely social souls a few times, I now board planes with my earphones in place and keep them firmly plugged in for the duration even if the iPod isn't on.

Given that the iPod doesn't help me prevent one-ness with my thoughts, I've had a couple of fairly big epiphanies on my international flights. Last year after a 10 day stretch of flying London-SF-London-Singapore-London-SF I found myself sitting up in my business class sleeper bed, staring into space and realising that I needed time off to think about what to do about my job and the absence of any life in my life. Sometimes weekend long clubbing just isn't enough :) It led me to taking 3 months off from work and eventually changing jobs.

This time when my computer unhelpfully died within the first hour and the latest installment of the Tales of the City novels proved to be a fast and slightly disappointing read, I was again left with nothing to do but switch to my iPod...and my thoughts. Thankfully my life's a little more interesting right now so the conversation with myself didn't involve as much of a scolding as last time. The result of the enforced introspection was that as I stepped out at Tokyo's Narita airport I was resolved on a few things...I won't tell you what conclusions I came to about myself and what I needed to change...thats way too personal for me...but will leave you to deduce what you may, dear reader, from the resolutions. My three mid-year resolutions are to force myself to sit down to write even if the story is not clear in my mind (waiting for it to reveal itself has led to a 8 month hiatus!) buy myself a silver thumb ring to wear sometimes without waiting for someone to buy one for me...and to start making plans to visit all those places that I want to go to but have been putting off for when I have someone special to see them with. Nothing life changing - thankfully. Of course that may be a sign that the flight-enforced self-discovery needed to go on longer...but for now I'll just take it as a sign that I'm no longer cursed with an interesting life and its attendant melodramatic subscripts.

But Yeah. It is funny how my introspections seem to lead me towards more vacations. :)
Maybe I should take a more serious look at one of those Vipassana courses - the voluntary, on-ground kind...?


Namrata said...

Enjoyed this... I just bought the Silver Band today too...

Chandra Karrothi said...

Definitely more personal than the ones before.

Any interesting japan stories other than your boring thoughts (of life). j/k.

CadeRageous said...

I miss my thumb ring. My mom bought it for me, and I wore it for 9 years. I keep hoping it will show up, but it's been several moves since I last saw it. (tear)

On another note, though it can be nice to have a form of social armor to keep people from interacting with us, have you read my thoughts on this?