I’m flying. I’m always flying.
But on this flight, I was upgraded to first class. I am embracing the full first class experience.
I got on before anyone else and sat in a seat that is sized for a real human being rather than some kind of tiny elf creature.
The flight attendant asked me if I wanted something to drink… before we even took off. I got a coffee with one cream, one sugar.
We took off and I looked out the two windows that were next to my seat.
Then, the flight attendant asked what I wanted to eat. They were serving dinner on this flight.
I’m on a flight, but I’m not just on a flight.
I’m also back at my office, thinking about the task lists we need to complete and projects we need to accomplish. I am texting co-workers and colleagues from 35,000 feet to make sure everyone is empowered to be successful. I am back at home, thinking about my amazing wife and two incredible kids.
I open up the photos on my iPad and swipe through a few.
I am thinking about the book project I have that is due and decide I need to take some time to work on it. I open up Pages and stare at it. I am wondering if the flight will be in on time and how nice it is that my second cup of coffee was served in an actual coffee mug – the kind that a normal human being would use.
Briefly, I contemplate the meaning of life but my internal monologue gets too deep so I switch the song that is playing in my Apple Music.
A tray is set in front of me. Tiny, delicious, airline portions of a nice meal look back at me. I am presented with an problem. I need to re-arrange my tray so that my iPad is off it and my food can be completely on it without making a mess. I don’t want to be that guy in first class and, even though things are more human sized it is still an airplane, there isn’t much room to maneuver. Then I realize I want to listen to some music while I eat. But I’m not really in the mood for music. I’ve been listening to music.
I’ll listen to a podcast. That is something people do, right?
I swipe through podcasts, holding my iPad high above my tray like a 55 year old tourist trying to take an iPad selfie at a museum. I find one I’m interested in. It starts to play… and stops.
I try another one. Nothing.
The airline WiFi is throwing up a major roadblock to my dinner and a podcast plans. I ask myself one of those deep life questions I was trying to avoid earlier:
Why am I doing this?
Why am I so desperately (and awkwardly) searching for something to listen to while I eat? Also, I’m not really going to listen to it. I’m going to have it on in the background while I eat my food absentmindedly and think about something else.
I take my headphones off. I shove my iPad into the human size seat back pocket. I look out the two windows near my seat. I start to eat my food, but I really am eating it. I realize –
I don’t enjoy my food anymore.
I inhale it. I use it as a necessary step to the next part of the day, even an impediment, something that needs to be done in order not to pass out. I cover up the enjoyment of food with sound, phones, social media, conversation, and absent-minded daydreaming. I chew my food but I don’t really chew my food. My mother would be disappointed.
So would these monks I spent time with in January of 2011. I did a silent retreat with this religious community, the Community of St. John, in Peoria, IL. It was a turning point in my life. The most profound moments happened at meals. We ate in silence.
Sometimes, someone read a spiritual book out loud during meals (probably to drown out the sound of food consumption). Otherwise, silence. When I drove home from that retreat I stopped at a Noodles & Co. to eat by myself. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
Not because Noodles is great – I actually find it to be disappointing 95% of the time – but because I really enjoyed that meal.
This moment hits me on the flight. I’m upgraded to first class in a comfortable seat, eating good food at 35,000 feet. It is fun. It is comfortable. It is quiet. I choose to be mindful.
I am not going to let this moment pass me by while I daydream about being somewhere else. I am going to enter into it. I am going to enjoy every bite. I am going to feel the light chop as we pass over clouds. I am going to recline my seat. I am going to be present in this moment.
I am going to enjoy this.
The intrusion of technology into our lives sold us a lie that creeps in on family dinners and lunches with friends: We need a device to connect us at every moment. We convince ourselves we need to multi-task to be successful. But, increasingly, people are finding that multi-tasking actually isn’t helping anything. It doesn’t make us any better. It makes us worse.
God created good things but we never enjoy them, anymore. Our minds are thousands of other places than where we are right now. What if – follow me here – what if a key to joy is just enjoying where we are, right now? For centuries (even millennia) a variety of religious traditions have practiced mindfulness. Basically, wherever you are – good or bad – be present to it. Embrace it. Enjoy it. The moment passes – good or bad – and is gone forever.
I finish my meal with only the silent hum of the MD-88 aircraft engines humming behind me. The food is delicious.
I get home in time to put my kids in bed. My son asks me to stay longer and snuggle him.
I lay my head on his chest.
I listen to his heartbeat. In his three years of life outside the womb, this is the first time I’ve heard his heartbeat.
It’s peaceful. It’s present.
I’m not thinking of anything else. I am here.
I am flying.