Ric Elias: Three Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed

Ric Elias: Three Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed

A man who was on board the jet that crash-landed into the Hudson River a few years ago talks about what he learned from the experience.


Something Missing

Today was our last day of work before winter vacation. There was a snowstorm, too, so our company let out about five hours early.

Everyone left saying, “Happy new year!”

I lingered a bit before leaving to arrange my things.  I ended up being the last one out.

That was when I noticed that something felt missing. Something beyond the quiet the of the deserted office.  Something beyond the anticlimax of built-up expectations that surround the approach of winter vacation. Something beyond the unexpected snowfall and canceled work day.

When I feel that something is missing, I have the urge to identify its source. Was there something that I was supposed to do but didn’t? Did I not wish my coworkers a happy new year with enough enthusiasm? Should I have decorated the office so the holiday would leave the kind of deep impression on our collective psyches that it deserves? If I had a comprehensive routine that I followed carefully, would that help me not overlook whatever’s missing? Or would it be the routine itself that caused me to overlook something?

But really, it’s none of that.  The feeling that something is incomplete is just the nature of life. It’s part of the package that life comes in. Something always feels awry, even if it’s just a tiny bit. Something always feels off. Something always feels just short of complete.

Maybe it comes from the fact that the people I love, places I like, and events, and holidays, and ordinary days are all just temporary.

I sometimes wish I could bestow permanence on them. Aren’t they precious? Wouldn’t they deserve that? Is it not tragic and poignant at the same time that people, things, and times that we love all pass away?

But that is not the nature of life, and I can’t change it.

And if I can’t change it, the only choice is to adjust to it, and alter how I think about it.

Freedom from Suffering

A teacher said, “A person who tried to measure the amount of suffering in life would have to give up before they had barely begun. There is just too much.  There are just too many different kinds.”

“But some people are free from suffering. How?  Because they are able to tell where suffering comes from.”

“You can do this, too, by making it a point to notice your thoughts and see how they set you up to suffer.”

Adapted from the sutra at this link: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.036.than.html

Sexual Attraction

Someone asked a famous teacher, how do people living in monasteries stay chaste?

The teacher said, “When you see someone of the opposite sex, think of them as a member of your family. If they are older, think of them as a parent. If they are about the same age as you, think of them as a sibling. If they are younger than you, think of them as your child.”

The person said that doesn’t always work. What then?

The teacher said, “If that doesn’t work, always remember what human bodies are really composed of. The outside might be attractive, but the inside is filled with things that would turn your stomach if you were able to see them.”

The person said that might be easy to do for mature or experienced people, but it might be harder for less mature people.

The teacher said, “If even that doesn’t work, the moment you realize you’re attracted to someone, recognize that you’re attracted to him or her, and stop dwelling on it.”