( In a previous post, I had described Pico Iyer’s experiences with the art of stillness. While on a long flight to L.A, he noticed that the passenger in the seat next to him kept absolutely still, though alert, during the entire journey. She was a German lady from Hamburg on her way to Hawaii and she told him that being still allowed her to still be fresh when she deplaned. Definitely worth trying, I thought to myself ….)
Last week, I was on a trip to Las Vegas when I remembered my resolution. It was a good time to see if stillness would work for me. I tried , I tried really hard — for all of ten minutes — before I gave up.
Stilling the mind is not easy, even for an experienced meditator … which I am not. After 10 minutes I fell back on my usual inflight amusements… crossword puzzles and the inflight map.
I almost never indulge in crossword puzzles– except on flights . Then, I am tethered to my seat and it’s a good way to pass the time. Not for me the inflight movie; I don’t care to watch it with headphones and on the tiny screen. Nor does the news interest me; I get enough of that elsewhere.
Of course, not just any puzzle book will do. Too many of them are difficult to handle on a plane. Small size books with small squares. Puzzles spread over two pages, the box on one side and the clues on the facing page. Extra difficult puzzles which are frustrating rather than relaxing. Books that are difficult to open out. All these I try to avoid.
The books I prefer have decent sized lettering, the puzzles are complete on a single page, they are not too easy or too difficult and the books are easy to open out. If they are spiral bound it’s a bonus. This time, I picked up 101 Crossword Puzzles for Dummies which meets all of the above criteria except that it is not spiral bound. In spite of the title, the puzzles are not easy ( or perhaps, this says something about me!). I spend between 20 and 30 minutes on each puzzle and, if I have not completed it I give up and look at the solution. I find that about three-fourths of the time I am able to finish a puzzle; the rest of the time I’m able to complete between 75% and 95%.
When I’ve had enough of the crosswords, I turn to the inflight map on the TV screen in front of me. This tells me where exactly the plane is at that moment, how far we have traveled , the time and distance to our destination, the outside temperature, the altitude and sundry other information. All these are source of never ending interest. Most interesting of all is the plane location which shows which state we are currently flying over. I like to read the names of the cities on our flight path and cudgel my mind to remember what little I know about them. For instance, this time when we were flying over Nebraska and I saw the words North Platte, I remembered the North Platte River which has been characterized as “ a mile wide and inch deep.” It’s a description that can be applied to certain people and means “ jack of all trades but master of none.” This set me thinking about other American idioms which are fresh and pithy and oh-so-descriptive.
I also marvel at the sizes of the various states. Those out west are huge and take a long time to fly over but, east of Ohio, it seems like we pass over the states in a flash. This time, I got to thinking about how casually we accept the wonder of airplane travel. One of my friends told me that, when he came to the U.S in 1959, sea travel was the only option. It took him weeks for a journey that we now accomplish in less than a day. Thinking over the changes that I have seen my lifetime leads me to consider what travel was like in bygone days. I have read that, in the 18th century, it took travelers three days to travel by horse and carriage from New York City to Philadelphia, a distance of about 90 miles that we now do in less than two hours by car. The size of the western states also causes me to reflect on the pioneers who settled the west. It must have been a hellish journey for them in their Conestoga wagons, plagued by heat or extreme cold, always under the threat of attack by Indians or by outlaws, always worried about their supplies of food and water. Too few Americans, whether they are native-born or immigrants, think about their history or care about it. But let me not go off on a rant….
I find that, at the end of a five or six hour flight I am still quite fresh. Longer than that, it can be a problem because of the cramped seating, the meals which arrive at strange times, the incessant journeys to the toilet by oneself and others in the same row, and the need to reset one’s internal clock.
I wish I could still my mind as Pico Iyer describes, but it is not something I can do. Perhaps if I work at it. For now, I am perfectly happy with my crossword puzzles and inflight maps, thank you.