Jul 19, 2013

Flying Lessons: Learning to Love the Pilot’s Seat

Photograph of a pilot's controlsThe first time I sat in the left seat—the pilot’s seat—of my flight instructor’s little Cessna 152, I was shocked to realize that absolutely nothing felt familiar. Not the view out the window, even though it was the same one I had seen from the right seat of my husband’s Cessna. Not the array of gauges, even though they were the same gauges in the plane that was familiar to me. The seat didn’t feel right. I hated the color and the smell—which I figured was the smell of the sweat from all the other students who had felt uncomfortable in this same seat. I wanted out.

Clio, my flight instructor, broke the news to me that I’d be in this seat for every lesson. In fact in a way, every lesson we’d have would be about getting me comfortable in the pilot’s seat.

To me, that sounds like life.

Just as I would have preferred that Clio just fly me around and explain things, might you have a part of you that would rather be the passenger? After all, we live in turbulent times. Our childhoods were almost all far from perfect. We don’t feel ready for the challenges ahead. Wouldn’t it be great to be….carried through the journey?

Only apparently, this isn’t the experiment we signed on for. Instead we have to strap ourselves in, take a deep breath, taxi out, and take off. As if we were pilots.

Of course the key to this metaphor is the flight instructor. No one wants to be one of those heroines who had to land an airplane with no training. The benefit of a place like Mirasol is that the flight instructors have experience with all the reasons that flying feels terrifying, overwhelming, and perhaps impossible. And they’re also experienced in teaching people to fly.

Clio was smart about giving me just enough challenge to create adrenaline, along with the opportunity to substitute a new action for the old temptation to freeze in my tracks. Could I learn to taxi, in spite of the shame I felt weaving all over the tarmac like a bad drunk? Once I learned that much control, could I keep the plane on the centerline as we were taking off?

When I tell these stories about Clio, many women respond with, “I wish I had a Clio.”

Instructors, coaches, therapists and healing practitioners are all potential Clios, who help us move from the passenger seat to the pilot’s seat. They give us a step by step process for becoming comfortable in that pilot’s seat. And then they ask us to expand our powers in that seat until we are pilots of life.

Now I hesitate to say these “Clios” help us become our “larger selves,” knowing that words like “large” and “big” are not positives for people who worry about their size. But let’s think about the energetic Self within, rather than the physical body.

When I meet a client, I often ask her about the life force inside her, which she might picture as a flame deep within. “How big is that flame?” I want to know. For some it’s a torch, but for people whose strength and sense of worth and embodied self is injured, that flame may be a flickering pilot light.

Then I know what my job is. It’s to help that person fan that flame, blow her breath on it, encourage it, build the heat in it. It’s her job to leave her small self for her large one. To leave her small life for her larger one. To leave that small, mean mind, and to decide not to believe everything it thinks. Her opportunity is to believe the larger knowing inside her that says she is precious, worthy, a sacred being on a sacred journey.

Like Clio, I know that the way for my client and the way for you to remember who you really are, is to sit in the pilot’s seat. At a place like Mirasol, you’ve got a Clio or two who can help you adjust to it, then get comfortable with it, then get competent in it, then forgive yourself for the mistakes you make in it, and then fly in it.

The comforting thing about the process of learning to be a pilot of life is that you have lots of company. We’re all in that process, at different stages. We all have stories, reasons why it’s hard, ways in which we suffer. And you also have courage, desire, hope, love, patience and intelligence within you.

“You have it within you to be a pilot,” Clio would say to me. And just as I had trouble believing that then, you may have trouble believing it now. So until you do, just try hopping into that left seat and begin.


~Pamela Hale Trachta (Guest Blogger)

Author of: Flying Lessons: How to Be the Pilot of Your Own Life

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