The cultivation of calm presence -- lesson from a pilot and Jane Goodall

Yesterday, i flew from Chennai to Jaipur with an hour's transit in Bangalore. 

Shortly after the aircraft started to taxi towards the runway in Bangalore, the Captain spoke. In all my years of hearing Captains speak, this stands out!  The measured pace of speech, the simple words used, the casual tone (without any hint of swagger), and something non-verbal (but incredibly present) -- all of it sent out a calm, strong message — ”i am around -- so, you can switch off in peace.”

After we landed, i asked if i could meet the pilot and, after some checks, i was led to the cockpit. i introduced myself and we chatted a bit. She thanked me and said -- ”Today is a special day for me. We are an all-woman crew flying this route today." Then, she paused, and said -- ”Sir, we had some trouble a short while before we landed."*

About a half-hour before we landed, the aircraft started to go all over the place, and probably for a quarter of an hour or so,  it was buffeted by massively strong forces. 

As i stood in the cockpit chatting with Prerna, i remembered that while the plane was bouncing all around earlier, i continued to read undisturbed -- i remembered a peculiar sound that made me wonder for a second if the engines had stalled  but, most importantly, i remembered no fear -- no trace of worry -- i kept reading much as i do at my study table.

i told Prerna this and said: ”i realise now that i was untroubled because i knew you were in the cockpit.”

i remember a piece about Jane Goodall, the great primatologist. She was standing along with a group of people in a deep jungle somewhere in Africa. This was a group from one of her long running initiatives that heals severely injured animals and frees them. That particular day, this group was releasing a fairly large chimpanzee. Jane happened to be around and they invited her along, The chimpanzee got out of the cage, meandered here and there, walked a distance away -- and then strolled back -- went to Jane and enveloped her in a massive hug -- and did not let go! We must bear in mind that this was the first time the chimpanzee had seen Jane. The person who had spent the past few months with the chimpanzee wrote that he was astonished by the fact that the chimpanzee ”knew who it had to thank for its life.” This is not a one-time event. A lot of people have "felt" the Jane-effect. Joycelyn Stokes interviewed her on 2nd October 2018 and writes that ”she has....the sustained calm....of a zen monk."

i have been told (many times) about sages whose very presence radiates calmness in the atmosphere. i have been privileged to meet some ordinary, regular people (like Prerna) -- who have this gift. Though i use the word gift, i believe this is not an supernatural or divine thing -- but a part of them that has manifested owing to years of hard work honing skills and a consistent authentic seeking to learn & make oneself better. 

Such people are actively conscious (using words from Jane) that ”you cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make." In a New York Times essay (24th November 2012) titled "The Snake in the Garden", Pico Iyer makes the interesting comment that if we look close we will find that ”we worry only about....those things we can never do anything about." People like Jane and Prerna live differently -- they focus on what they can do, and do it with all their soul. 

i told Prerna that i learnt a lot from her and walked out of the aircraft with a song in my heart. i realise that i am incredibly fortunate — the universe keeps sending me Teachers every day.