Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Bardo of Air Travel


I lead group shamanic journeys to an airport that won't be found on any ordinary map. They leave their bags, check in, go through security and board a plane that will take them to a destination where the dead are alive. Instructions for this crossing to the Other Side are in my book The Dreamer's Book of the Dead. During my air travels over the weekend, I sometimes felt that I had stepped into my own dream scenario, or that it had spilled into my world - or that, at least, I had been cast in a new episode of The Twilight Zone.

1

The Shakespeare Seat in the Twilight Zone

There is a woman in front of me at the airline desk where I am waiting to check in for my flight to Atlanta on Friday morning. The airline agent who is checking her in says to me, “You two are traveling together, right?”
    I tell her No but she doesn’t believe me. “He’s kidding,” she says to the woman passenger. “You two are together, yes?”
    “Sorry," I amplify. "This lady seems very nice but we don’t know each other.”
    “I was sure you were together.”
     “Are you looking for a career as a matchmaker? My wife won’t like it.”
     “Neither will my husband,” smiles the woman passenger.
     A male airline agent intervenes to take my bag and issue my boarding pass. "You got the Shakespeare seat," he congratulates me. I don’t get it until he says my seat number out loud. "2B."  
     I catch up to the stranger the other agent wanted to make my wife. She has a broad, open face and sensible shoes. She looks ready for a genteel country walk, or to give a tutorial.
    "I need to know who you are," I tell her. "The airline agent was so keen to play matchmaker that there must be some connection."
     "I'm a vertebrate paleontologist," the stranger tells me brightly. She helps me out by adding, "I study dinosaurs."
   "So we have something in common. I tell my psychology friends that I am a Paleolithic psychologist."
    I check my cellphone and a cartoon pops up on my Facebook news feed. It shows two dinosaurs in bed. One of them is saying, “I had a nightmare that I was small, frail, covered in feathers and fluttering through the air.”
    I show this to the Vertebrate Paleontologist and we exchange our website information. I distantly recall an episode of the old TV series "The Twilight Zone" in which the people on an airplane are thrown back across time. As I recall, the episode ends with a glimpse of a grazing sauropod dinosaur, and no resolution. You never know when you might need expert advice on a dinosaur situation.



In the line for the security check, I notice a key on the floor, just the one key. I wave it at a TSA agent, “Someone dropped a key.”
    The young man in front of me whips around and gapes. “That’s mine.” When I hand it to him he says, “That’s the key to my girlfriend’s apartment. You just saved my life, man.”
     The airport public address system is busy this morning, with announcements about other things left at the security check. In ascending order of strangeness: a jacket, a belt, a cell phone, a driver's license, a passport, a purple cane and one shoe. How do you leave behind one shoe? This only records the visible things missing from people in my airport Bardo today.


After I take my Shakespeare seat on the plane, the airline agent who tried to marry me to the Vertebrate Paleontologist rushes down the aisle and spills two pens in my lap. Certainly I can write two things at once.
   While they de-ice the plane, I ponder what it means to me today to be in what the airline guy called the Shakespeare seat. These lines from Polonius in Hamlet return to me:

This above all - to thine own self be true:
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.



2B or not 2B, sure. How about 2C? When I look across the aisle from my Shakespeare seat, the fellow in 2C is doing amazing things with a salad in a clear round plastic container he has brought on board. He spins it between his palms like a wheel, he shakes it, he spins it a different way. I get that he's trying to get the dressing nicely mixed with the leaves but this goes on for ten minutes. It seems this is his version of spinning a Tibetan prayer wheel or doing asanas.
    I wait until we are landing before asking him what was in the salad dressing. "I've never seen Salad Yoga before." He tells me it's a Thai dressing from Panera, an "intense" experience. Evidently.



Settled into my seat, I am rereading the Bhagavad Gita while sipping a gin and tonic. I am distracted by what is going on in the row in front of me. Sarah Sanders is sitting in the window seat. A hyena-like younger man is chatting her up. Their conversation gets louder as they toss back free drinks. Now they're talking about online dating and what lies it's okay to tell intimate partners before and after dumping said partners.
   Am I dreaming? No. But I realize this is not the Sarah of the briefing room but a lookalike of her possible future self, ten years older and thirty pounds heavier.
    As we get ready to disembark, I say to her, "Thanks for the entertainment."
    She blushes to the roots of her hair. "You mean you could hear us?"
   "Every word. But I decided not to record you this time."
  

2

Night Flight from Atlanta

I look behind me and there she is again, the mountainous woman in the Zulu hat, coming down the ramp. I step on board the plane and the flight attendant takes my coat, as he did before.
    "Sorry to bother you again," says the man who needs me to stand up so he can sit in the window seat. He fires up his computer and starts watching the same old movie he was watching before.
    The man who is going to sit behind me fumbles with stuff in the overhead compartment and I brace myself in case he lets something fall on my shoulder as he did before. But he catches it this time, pats my shoulder and says, "Good thing I knew what was going to happen."
    "We've met before," the man across the aisle says to the woman next to him. She says, "In your dreams."
    These are vignettes from the Bardo of my air travel during my trip home from Atlanta on Monday night. The first plane broke. They found us another plane, unbroken but otherwise identical, where we took the same seats we had before. It was deja vu all over again. People were blurry, taking off after midnight, 2 1/2 hours late. Hard not to feel we were in a Twilight Zone episode in which things go on repeating until you wake up to the fact that you are dreaming, or dead, or both.


Photo: William Shattner in the 1963 Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"





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Nancy West said...

Thanks, Robert. I enjoyed reading this!

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