The Opposite of Letting Go

If you are a control freak, turbulence, and transitions, are a nightmare in the sky, until you learn to not let go.

“I know the answer is yes, but let me ask you the question.  Are you a control freak?”

Was she really trying to talk to me right now, this flight attendant, this… Elizabeth… per her jittering name tag.  Did she not see my knuckles, white from gripping the armrests, my skin pallid from straight up fear?  I had already gotten a physics lecture from the teenager in the non-distanced covid row in front of me, and now a judge-y question? All while attempting to survive a roller coaster in the sky.  Did no one else care that the plane felt like it was about to come down?

That said, she did ask nicely, and she did have a sweet demeanor, so I looked up, every so slightly released my soaking-wet palms, and apprehensively answered.  “I suppose so!”

Turbulence. The epitome of lack control, especially in flight.  Turbulence actually stems from the Latin, turbulentus, meaning ‘full of commotion.’  But commotion and turbulence are different for us control freaks, those of us that like to direct our future and manage our outcomes.  Commotion has an air of kinetic activity, one that can lead somewhere positive, turbulence an aura of debilitating chaos, one that wigs me out.

I did not always used to be afraid of those bumps in the air.  In fact, it all began on one of my last business trips with Morgan Stanley, circling over the Sao Paulo sprawl.  All of a sudden, a tiny bounce, and I panicked.  Since then, I have been attempting to command a recovery.  I have tried meditation and medication, prayer and Netflix, but, oddly, Elizabeth seems to have been the one unexpected thing that has smoothed my controlling soul.

Life, both in the sky and on the ground, is rife with turbulence, periods of uncontrollable movement and fluctuations.  These have never and will never dissipate, especially if you are already going through a personal or career transition, or as I like to call it, life ‘Between the Waves.’  Trying to grip through life’s turbulence, as numerous airplane seats and I have discovered, merely takes days off your future existence… and makes your skin wrinkled, stinky, and clammy.  On the other hand, accepting one’s relationship with control, as Elizabeth confronted me with, pushes you in the right direction.

Actively working on what you cannot control is akin to swimming in the open ocean.  Each stroke provides the effort and direction to move forward, but the current creates the turbulence that will, like it or not, shift your trajectory.  Once you accept that you will get where you need to go if you stop fighting the turbulence, and instead start to use the current to your advantage, you will see that you are, in fact, arriving, safe, sound, and in one piece.  

This is quite the opposite of ‘letting go,’ a phrase I have, quite frankly, detested for decades, but rather loosening the emotional and mental grip on forces stronger and bigger than you.  It is about allowing nature, be it the physical currents of the sea, land, and sky, or metaphysical currents of the mind, soul, and life, run its course.

Like turbulence, transitions are bigger than who we are, which is a large reason we are so impatient through them  But, by its very nature, turbulence is a controlled pattern, a millimetric act of physics, which is precisely why we cannot put a timer on it, or transitions, no matter what the Captain announces over the intercom. That would be akin to cutting off the flow of air in the sky, or a tide in the ocean.

Yes, there is comfort in control, a perceived power in attempting to manage the insuppressible laws of nature, that I must admit.  But as Elizabeth has reminded me, the only thing that will get me where I need to be in one piece is accepting where I am now.  Bouncing around in the sky writing to you.