Leonardo Da Vinci wrote “Once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.“
Recently thinking about this in the middle of the night, I found myself drifting towards strangely complicated horizons for a while and then suddenly, it all made sense. Through the mists of sleep, I ended up laying down a comparison of life with the principles of flight and aerodynamics. Here is what I recovered from it… To be taken with a grain of salt, but it suits me.
The bottom line is this: life should be a perfectly smooth flight. No turbulence, unlimited visibility, sufficient fuel to destination or an alternate, and an extraordinary view of the world from high above where things just seem to make complete sense.
That was the theory. But weather changes. Visibility drops. Clouds move in. The air gets choppy. A front approaches. The wind shifts and picks up. Thunderstorms rage. Fuel runs low for a hundred unexpected reasons. Mechanical failure jumps out of the manual right onto your lap. Or the shit simply hits the fan.
Let’s face it, that’s our life. We need to deal with it. Be prepared, and then live in the present and adapt.
We’ll use a stall as our first example. When a plane – or our life – stalls, flight has stopped. Drag becomes overwhelming, lift disappears, and the wings stop flying. We fall.
Of course, the ideal manner to deal with a stall would be to prevent it in the first place, by being in tune with the plane and life and rather than reacting, to act along with it, so that energies do not clash. That is the way of Aïkido.
But we fall behind. We make small mistakes that compound to create bigger ones. Our understanding of the situation, recognition of the symptoms and corrective action suffer from a definite lag. We procrastinate. We wait, in denial. We avoid the issue. We invent convenient reasons why it can’t happen to us. We get distracted by something else.
At times we even manage to flirt with a stall by staying too long in the slow flight zone. But it’s a difficult maneuver and eventually, the buzzer sounds and we slowly start loosing altitude. At this stage, the plane is upset and the controls are reversed; one gains altitude by adding power and speed by pushing the stick forward.
Other times, however, there is just no warning. One minute everything is fine, and then it’s too late. We are falling. It’s a scary feeling, the stomach complains, adrenaline rushes, panic sets in. Routine is shattered and replaced by a downward motion, surely leading to a final clash. In life as in flight, what matters now is training.
What will actually save our life is an illogical choice: while we are falling from the sky or through the thin air of life, we must commit to the situation, and push forward on the stick, as if attempting to seal our fate even faster. A paradox but it works. And we must crystallize our energy too, and add as much power as needed.
Those two combined actions will push the plane and our life back into the flying envelope and let it regain speed and the maneuverability that goes along with it. The fall will stop and life will resume. There will have been an unavoidable loss of height, which will need to be regained as soon as possible.
And once more, wiping away the sweat, we will seek smoother air, nervously glancing at the fuel gages. Are they accurate? How long can we last? Can we react faster next time?
Life is bumpy, no doubt about it. And I love flying. We all develop our own stall warning systems. Whether they buzz, ring, vibrate, shake, burn, sing or tickle is not important. Maybe some day I’ll be able to sense an oncoming stall better. Maybe I’ll get to the point where I can simply erase the concept from the manual, just like mankind finally erased hunger from the face of the Earth. Oh, wait a minute… We haven’t done that yet.
To be continued…