Meditating Turbulently

On Sunday I left home for a wild trip with an overpacked schedule. Within 24 hours I had traveled from Chapel Hill to Denton TX, where I showed a film, saw three amazing bands, connected with old friends and made new ones, slept for 4 hours, met a brilliant man on a plane, and came close to dying over Wyoming. When our plane hit turbulence it seemed for a moment as if would hurtle us to earth. It felt extreme and it was. 5 people were injured enough to go to the hosptial by ambulance and the turbulent flight made the evening news.

I first flew into Dallas in order to attend the Thin Line film festival in Denton TX. I got a ride from a volunteer named Treat, who showed me around town. We had some tacos and pizza and then I watched a fantastic band called the cozy hawks at Dan’s Silverleaf. I ran over the theater intending to introduce our film, but I was out front waiting for friends and it started without me. So I walked back to the bar, Dan’s, and saw another band, Calhoun, that was also great. The bands all had an appreciation for the solidity of roots music, wrote great songs, and also loved new wave.

On my trip around town with Treat I snapped a few pictures. When I posted the one above to facebook and instagram I got a message from a friend from High School asking if I was in Denton as well a message on instagram from my friend Barbara, who lives in Baltimore. Barbara asked me to call her if I was in town. I was in Dan’s so I went outside to call her and headed back to the Campus Theater to do Q and A after “Who Took Johnny”. When I reached her I found out she was at Dan’s and that we had just missed each other. The Q and A went well, the crowd seemed to get and appreciate the film. My friends and I headed back to Dan’s for Slobberbone- another great band that had the decency to end their encore set with “Can’t Hardly Wait” by the Replacements. I don’t get to see music that much anymore so I was enjoyed the hell out seeing three awesome bands that pretty much did everything right as far as I could tell.

It was wild to run into Barbara because just the other day I posted something about how we were shooting “Half-Cocked” 20 years ago this week. Barbara and her then boyfriend Sean were the main characters in Chattanooga, and meeting them was a major impetus for making the film. So I stayed out a little late, which was only hard because I had to be up at 5:30 for a 7:30 flight.

The volunteer that drove me to the airport was another pleasure to meet. We had a great conversation about “Story of Pain”, our film about the connection between stress and illness. When I got on the plane I found myself sitting next to a guy immersed in his kindle. At some point, about 20 minutes into the flight we started talking and it quickly came out that his father was a screenwriter so we talked about films (Bullit and The Thomas Crowne Affair). Then we started talking about diet, and the food system, and illness, and basically all kinds of awesome stuff. John W. Trustman, my new friend brought me into the United Club for coffee after our flight so that we could continue our conversation.

I was feeling really tired, but positive as I got on the plane to Billings. I was headed to meet up with a woman who was put in the witness protection program at 7 years old. It wasn’t like they make it seem in the movies. Now she’s 39, and she can’t go back to school because she doesn’t have a birth certificate or a passport and she can’t get anyone to help her. After being in Billings for a couple of days I’m headed to Missoula by bus for the Big Sky Film Festival. The plane was late in taking off because the pilot went missing. I started to nod out as I’d only had a few hours sleep but woke up to text the woman in Billings that I’d be a little late. We took off and after reading for a little bit the flight attendants brought drinks. After drinking my coffee I decided to try to meditate.

Ever since September, I have been trying to meditate for at least 20 minutes a day. I miss some days and do it more on others. In general, I’ve found that it’s helped me to calm down, relax, and gain focus. About 10 minutes into my mediation I felt the plane lurch. I continued to focus on my breathing but then I was splashed with liquid when my neighbor’s drink flew to the ceiling. I opened my eyes to see the wing lurch violently up and down against the horizon. It felt a bit like being in the earthquake museum in Japan but much crazier. I credit the mediation, but I stayed calm. I didn’t really feel all that worried because I also knew that I had no control over the situation and no amount of anxiety was going to change that fact.

When the most intense shaking had stopped I turned to my neighbor and said that I kind of enjoyed it. I think that being in a meditative space when the incident happened left me feeling calm rather than relieved. It was an odd but exhilarating feeling. Looking up I noticed that when the drink hit the ceiling it had left a thick circle of liquid that was starting to drip down. I reached to the floor to grab a napkin to wipe the rest of his sprite off the ceiling. After a moment I realized that there was a lot of wailing and screaming going on. The flight attendants were running up and down the aisle in a crouch position even though the turbulence had subsided. I kept waiting for the pilot to come on the intercom to explain what had happened but we never heard from them. There were a few more bumps, nothing like that first 20 seconds of terrible shaking, but we settled in. My first fear after the turbulence was that something might have happened to the engine or the plane itself but it seemed to be ok.

I looked across the aisle and saw that the woman there had somehow bumped her head. The flight attendants came on to announce that one of them had been injured and we were requested to stay in our seats upon landing so they could get her off. I could hear a lot of commotion but it was only later that I found out that the stewardess hadn’t regained consciousness and was bleeding from her ears. A baby had been tossed back two rows. I think that because we were over the wing it might have been a little more stable than the front and back of the planes.

As we approached the airport, the meditation was wearing off, and I began to feel anxious. The plane started to lurch, not violently, but it seemed as if there was something wrong with the plane, or that the pilot was inexperienced. Then I noticed that we were pointing down more than I was used to. When we got close to the ground the plane seemed to be moving in unexpected ways. Things were not smooth. When we hit the ground we hit it hard, and a good number of people cried out in fear. Then one of the wings dipped severely making it feel like we might just tumble somehow. Shortly though, the plane settled into a bumpy taxi down the runway. At first I thought perhaps the pilot was drunk. Then I began to think that maybe he too had been injured. When I got outside I saw that the wind was whipping pretty strongly, so that could have contributed to the problems.

I wasn’t too badly shaken up, so when I got off the plane I started to shoot immediately. Later that night while shooting at a bar, I mentioned the flight. The bartender told me it had made the news. It’s interesting to participate in an event and then see how it plays out in the media. I didn’t know about the baby flying back several rows. Five people were taken to the hospital by ambulance, but I was fine.

At the bar I told my new friends about Dr. Sarno. I’m sure that half of the people on the plane have “whiplash” today. I’m not talking about the people who flew into the ceiling and bashed their heads. I’m talking about the people who were thrown around in the seats, who got afraid that they’d have whiplash today. I had a great day of shooting and I’m looking forward to my 7 hour bus ride to Missoula, because I know there won’t be any turbulence.

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