"Doing any flying lately?" my buddy Anders asked me at a recent club meeting.
"Aw, man, I haven't flown in months," I answered ruefully. "It sucks!"
It's true. For all I've written about the importance of recent experience and persistence at this wonderful craft of flying, lately I've been totally, stubbornly earthbound. There have been good reasons for this. I've just started a new job that's taking a lot of my time. I've had some big bills recently. I'm spending most of my off hours preparing my house for sale. So both time and money have been tighter than usual. But really these are just excuses. If I prioritized it, I know I could fly enough to at least maintain proficiency. I mean, come on—it's Summer in California!
No, it's pretty clear that something else is going on. Lately I've been like an old "barn sour" horse who'd rather stick close to the stables than get out and run. I've seen this kind of behavior in other pilots, but the closest I've come to experiencing it myself was a niggling doubt and fear that occasionally came over me early in my flying career when I'd been away from soaring for several weeks. When that set in, I sometimes found myself making excuses for not making the trip to the gliderport. As much as I love flying, at those times, it was triggering thoughts and feelings that I would rather deny and avoid. Invariably, however, once I actually got back in the cockpit and started feeling comfortable at the controls again, I was reminded of just how much I love to fly.
Could the same kind of thing be happening now? I don't know, but it seems very likely. I strongly suspect that as I look inside and ask some hard questions, I'll notice some hidden bias or belief that's been operating without my being aware of it. This time, it doesn't feel like doubt in my abilities—I know from experience that with a few hours of dual instruction and some careful practice I can knock off the rust and fly safely and well. Rather, it feels more like some kind of internal conflict.
It won't surprise me if this turns out to be the case. I think that internal conflict is one of the most common, almost routine, experiences for human beings. So much of what really motivates us and governs our behavior is unconscious. There's what I think I believe, value, and want—and then there's a lifetime of conditioning that drives me to behave in ways I don't understand. I've learned to watch for those situations. They almost always have something to teach me.
Ultimately, this might be the most important lesson I've learned from flying airplanes: how to apply the observe-act-observe cycle not just to my flying, but to myself.
So, what's my plan? Schedule some dual with one of my favorite instructors and get back in the air—and pay close attention to the thoughts and feelings that come up in the process.
It's time for this horse to get out of the barn!
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