I arrived in Seattle today and it is raining. I am attending a Circle of Trust retreat based on the writing and work of Parker Palmer. We share stories and look at the lives we live. Today, I shared a story about my fear of flying and its underlying source. This ends up being a humourous story in the end and revealed something I am only beginning to understand.
Recently, Kathy and I flew from Edmonton to Portland. After arriving in Vancouver late, we rushed across airport and just made the Portland connection. The doors were closed before we had our seat belts fastened. I settled in, we climbed to altitude, the captain came on the intercom and announced words fearful fliers do not want to hear, “Folks there is inclement weather en route and there will be turbulence.” We did hit turbulence. It was not the worst I have experienced, but it was bad enough to create apprehension for me. Kathy calmly explained, “It is similar to a school bus on a gravel road.” I was not impressed and continued to suffer. As the turbulence died down, I reflectively asked a question: “What is causing me to feel this way?” Just as I was beginning to explore this intriguing question, we hit another patch of turbulence. Already engaged in an answer seeking mode, I realized I was moving my feet like I was working the pedals in a car. My fear of flying is largely based on a lack of control. When the flight moved past the turbulence, I mentioned this to Kathy who suggested one of us needed to get a pilot’s license to resolve the problem. We were able to laugh. The good news is today I had a relatively good and relaxed flight to Seattle. Being aware of a potential cause, is important and asking that first question was important.
This is not the first time I used this strategy. Driving to a meeting in November, I did the same thing when I grew anxious about the meeting. I asked myself what made me feel the way I did and realized a lack of feeling in control of the meeting and its agenda was at the heart of my anxiety. I was able to relax and remain poised during the meeting. The lack of control existed in my mind as an imagined narrative I held to be true. I had not mentally rehearsed or visualized how I would handle what I assumed would be a confrontational situation. This was my normal way of dealing with these situations. The result that day was a quieter, more relaxed mind and body; better prepared actually by not preparing the old-fashioned way. Retreats, like the one I am attending this weekend offer opportunities to explore the internal landscape in a different way than normally done in the busyness of my daily life. From a leadership perspective, if a person is always going off the deep end emotionally, how can that be effective leadership? The time to reflect and spend time attending to one’s inner landscape is an essential, but overlooked aspect of true leadership.