I am moved to share with you my present experience of passing time, waiting the long seven hours at an airport before I can take the late night flight back to my home city, a further five and a half hours away. I am entirely responsible for this inconvenience as I have missed my planned flight. Although I have cut times tight before, I have never yet actually missed a flight. It is a timely lesson for me and I want to share with you some of my reactions to putting myself in this position.
Let me go back a couple of hours to when I first became aware that I was in danger of missing the flight. The old conditioned learning of judgement and blame arose but fortunately I was able to remind myself of more recent understandings that when one becomes aware of a mistake the useful reaction is to acknowledge one’s part in coming to this present situation and make a firm resolution not to repeat the same mistakes. So I needed to carefully review my actions and inactions and identify the habit patterns in thought and action leading to the present result. At least there was now some mindfulness around!
Birthday celebrations and family reunions!
It is my son’s 34th birthday today and a few hours ago I had taken him and his girlfriend out for lunch before needing to return the car my girlfriend had kindly lent me for the last week while I have been traveling interstate. From her house I had to take a taxi to the airport and my flight home. Mistake number one: my calculations for how long this would take were cut too fine and did not allow a sufficient safety margin. This is one of my habit patterns I have been working on for some years and have made some improvements – but clearly my underestimating habits are not yet broken!
So, to return to the birthday lunch. Here I made my next mistake, again largely habitual. I was concerned that we should all have a good time together, with a sense of special occasion, and I did not want to ‘short-change’ him by appearing to rush or clock watch. So I didn’t look at my watch enough and then got a rude shock when I did do a time check. Then I certainly had to rush them! After leaving them, I admit to driving rather fast but with a heightened sense of alertness, fully mindful of possible dangers and the environment around me. By then I knew I might well miss the connection. The temptation arose, very briefly, to drop the car off at a safe midway point between my friend’s address and the airport, leaving her and her husband with the inconvenience of picking it up. I knew this would ensure I caught the flight but I also knew it was an unacceptable choice and no way to return my friend’s generosity. Fortunately, I think habitual tendencies also made this decision very clear and easy.
Turning the mind to thoughts of others
When I arrived at my friend’s house, the taxi I had ordered had not arrived and was, in fact, 15 minutes late. I had to work hard on mindful acceptance, in order to avoid being caught in frustration and ill will at the further delay. On the final taxi leg of my flight to the airport I had occasion to try out another comparatively recent learning. The temptation was to fuel impatience and anxiety with internal “hurry! hurry!” commands and thoughts of the possible dire consequences of missing the plane. Instead, I very deliberately turned my attention to wishing well to all the people in the cars and houses around me. From them my attention and supportive wishes went to the many thousands of people currently struggling with the effects of Tsunamis, floods and landslides that I had briefly viewed on the television news the night before. After wishing these unfortunate people the courage, skills, understanding and acceptance that they needed in their difficult conditions, I filled my mind with good wishes for many different groups of people caught in suffering around the world and reminded myself of the very tiny difficulty that I had created for myself through my poor judgement and lack of attention. It felt good and a lot more useful to give my attention to others, rather than be caught in the prison of my own self construction.
Responsibility to make conscious past conditioned learning
And so here I am sitting at the airport, waiting and reflecting on responsibility. My thoughts are not just about the need to take and understand responsibility for my actions, as I have tried to record above. My thoughts are also about how we have a continuous responsibility for increasing our awareness of both our present actions and motivations and our previous conditioned learnings that tend so often to have become habitualised and therefore automatic and often unconscious. We have to reveal to ourselves the hidden learnings that so often catapult us into actions and reactions that do not accurately fit the present situation or cause unnecessary suffering to ourselves or others. We have to patiently and with kindness pick ourselves up time and time again, acknowledging mistakes and determining to make effort not to repeat them.
Having picked myself up from yet another mistake and redirected my attention to the dharma (or teaching) of my present experience and then putting this learning into words that I can share for the benefit of us all, I notice that I am feeling content and peaceful. I am no longer unhappy or in any way resentful of where I find myself. Mindful acceptance of responsibility, combined with kindness, works!
And so here is my view at dawn the next morning, following no sleep for 24 hours!
Wishing you well and happy,