After a catastrophic fifteen months dealing with the ramifications of COVID, the travel industry is now in a different kind of disarray as it seeks to return to some semblance of normalcy. Air fares are going through the roof and, equally troubling, airlines are switching up routes and flights every day. In other words, cancellations and rerouting of already purchased flights are rampant.
My story is that several weeks ago I bought five tickets for my family to fly next month from California to Wisconsin where my sister has a house on a lake. It’s remote, gorgeous and a place I’ve been going to since I was six years old. Tubing, fishing, swimming, chasing frogs and crayfish — it’s good old-fashioned kid fun.
But at $700 a ticket, it isn’t cheap to get there. I got us flying Orange County to Minneapolis then, after a three hour layover, taking a puddle jumper up to tiny Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
“Hey Dave, Delta Airlines here…”
A few weeks after buying the tickets I got an email from Delta. Long story short, they cancelled the direct flight from Orange County to Minneapolis and instead had us flying to Salt Lake City and then to Minneapolis and then to Rhinelander. Only a fifty minute layover in Salt Lake so if we’re late out of OC, we’re probably screwed. Oh, and no price reduction for our trouble.
Travelling with three kids, with the youngest only four years old, is taxing enough for parents. Throw in three flights with a tight connection and you have a travel disaster waiting to happen.
So what does any of this have to do with spiritual work? Plenty. Because after an initial bout of irritation and future fiasco rumination, my saner, spiritual side kicked in. And it did so automatically, without any summoning from my inner depths.
Staying present with what is
I thought, okay, so we have an added stop in Salt Lake City. When we fly there I’ll just stay present with that. And if we miss the connection to Minneapolis, I’ll deal with that. And if we have to spend the night in Salt Lake, so be it.
And if worse comes to worst and we have to cancel the trip altogether, I’ll be okay with that, too. I won’t like that outcome, but I can handle it.
I feel the same about three other trips I have planned this summer and fall, two to Washington, D.C., and another to the same lake house, this time just me and four of my siblings. All of those trips involve expensive, complicated flights with off the charts rental car rates. I want to make all of those trips, but if I have to miss every one of them, I’ll be okay.
It’s critical to note that my old, pre-spiritual work self would have freaked out about all of this.
How spiritual work helped me
Knowing all that, let’s consider the massive benefit my spiritual work is raining on me. First, I’m having none of my usual anticipatory travel anxiety. “What if we miss the connection and we have to entertain three kids for six hours in Salt Lake? Or worse, spend the night! Boy, I hope we make that connection…” I don’t feel any anxiety whatsoever about this. I know whatever happens, I’ll be fine.
And the ‘what if the whole trip falls through’ fear? We live in Southern California near the beach, which is basically a perpetual staycation, especially in the summer when the weather is perfect here. So, again, no worries there.
Compassion arises to thwart the anger
How about dealing with the anger I’d normally feel about the airlines abruptly changing our plans? For this, the foundational emotion of all spirituality rose up: Compassion.
What?! I can hear many of you thinking, “Do NOT tell me to show compassion for the airlines or I will click off this story faster than grass through a goose!”
Believe it or not, I do feel compassion for the airlines. Even Delta, who I paid all that money to. Why? Because, along with the restaurant business, the airline industry got hit by COVID worse than any others. And remember, airlines are just a bunch of people and planes, and mostly people. Flight attendants, ground crew, pilots. They had a rougher fifteen months than most of us. Bottom line: I’m giving them some slack as they try to put Humpty Dumpty back together.
And who benefits by my feeling this way? I DO! It’s just fewer ill feelings I’m lugging around in my lower self. It’ll also benefit some ticket agent that I don’t yell at should anything go haywire come travel day.
Chopping the wood and carrying the water
What spiritual work have I done that resulted in this milder, more positive reaction to traveling? Honestly, it’s just been, as Ram Dass calls it, chopping wood and carrying water for close to ten years.
By that I mean the simple, daily work trekking along the spiritual path. Meditating for fifteen minutes a day. Listening to talks and reading books by Eckhart Tolle, Michael Singer and Ram Dass and slowly absorbing their teachings into my being. Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis.
Nothing radical. I haven’t done a one year, twelve hour a day meditation retreat or anything like that. Just daily sadhana.
The power of nonresistance
What that daily practice produces, ever so slowly, is a gradual decrease in resistance. We stop fighting less with what is.
“They added a whole extra flight to my trip without even asking?! F*^K them!”
No. No need to explode. It’s just what is. Doesn’t mean I won’t try and get that flight dropped from our itinerary (I am), but if I can’t, then that’s what is and I’ll be okay.
Eckhart phrases this beautifully:
“Don’t resist what is.”
Nonresistance is absolutely central to spiritual growth. And boy does life get better when we start really practicing this.
Another way spiritual work manifests positively in our lives, and it’s hugely apropos to my travel stories, is that the external circumstances of our lives have less of an influence on our overall sense of well-being. Meaning, we feel positive and calmer inside, from all the work we’ve done, to such an extent that what happens outside influences us less.
For example, not freaking out about possibly having to cancel the lake trip. Yes, I’d feel badly that my kids won’t get to have that experience. But they’ll be fine at home, too. And so will I.
Not relying on the external world for happiness
Most people exert every ounce of will they can muster every second of every day trying to manipulate the external world so they can feel happy inside. Get the promotion and you’ll feel happy. Get the guy you’re interested in and you’ll be happy. And on and on it goes.
But the external world is out of our control most of the time. The result is that most people don’t feel very good most of the time.
Devoting time and effort to spiritual work results in us feeling better inside regardless of what’s going on in the outside world. I can’t think of anything more beneficial.
The bottom line? I have four trips in August and September and with the travel business in the state that it’s in, it could be a monumental shit show. And I’ve accepted that. Because that’s what is. The result is I feel peaceful inside about it, which is worth its weight in gold.
The purpose of writing this is to spur those of you who relate to this travel stuff, and who might still freak out about it, to give basic spiritual work a chance. Start a meditation practice. Get going on some basic mindfulness exercises (by the way, they’re all basic).
None of it is complicated. None of it is difficult. It’s simply work that needs to be done.