Monday, August 22, 2011

Do shamans lose consciousness on airplanes?

Does the ability to achieve unconsciousness on a plane signify a higher consciousness? is the somewhat  misleading intro on the home page (upper right) of today's New York Times.

How to Sleep on a Plane
Does the ability to achieve unconsciousness on a plane indicate, in fact, a higher consciousness?

On reading  the blog, it turns out to be a pop culture take on higher consciousness, purely a fluff piece. I wonder what the author really knows about shamanism. She doesn't develop a provocative idea beyond the banal. To be fair, the unnamed front page title picker got it wrong.

With the closed-mouth solemnity of a dignitary lying in state, airplane sleepers seem to me shamanistic. They’re at one with the Virgin Atlantic or JetBlue heavens. In the passenger murmur, overhead beeps and engine hum they hear a lullaby.

Maybe Virginia is on to something. Despite feeling lied to by the title, I have occasionally wondered about the association between air travel and a higher consciousness, and I'm not talking about the ability to sleep.  I had the unfortunate experience landing in Vancouver with Chris a couple of weeks ago, when he passed out briefly on our descent. This is the second time I have sat next to him on an airplane and something unusual happened. The first time was when we flew back from  England after his university interview in 2001 and he got a cracking head pain as we began our descent. I mark that occasion as the first clue that he would go on to develop psychosis. The pain mysteriously vanished on landing, but Chris began tapping his head in the same way that Russell Crowe portrayed John Nash sliding into psychosis.

The rational explanation is the first thing we look for, but the explanation may not be rational. The doctor in the seat next to me in Vancouver asked if Chris is diabetic (I sure hope not!) and hearing that he wasn't, he thought it might be low blood pressure. Chris's psychiatrist, Dr. Stern, thought it might be anxiety. Who knows? I favor the higher consciousness explanation.

Has anyone else experienced something similar on a plane or thinks that, indeed, there is something godlike going on?

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