Greetings from America! My trip here is halfway over, and I finally found some time to share an experience I had on the way here.
For this trip to America, one of my grandfather's friends generously let me use one of her "buddy passes" that she receives each year thanks to her husband's long years of work at the airline. If you've never heard of these, here's how they work. You don't get a ticket for the flight, you fly standby, meaning you show up after all the other passengers have checked in. And if there's a free seat, you get it for a great price. The beauty of the buddy pass is that if that free seat is in business class, you fly business class, no questions asked. In fact, the only way that you don't get business class is if it's full (which is rare) or someone else with higher priority uses a buddy pass and takes that seat.
Tokyo to Atlanta is a long flight, and for weeks I had been imagining myself living it up in business class like this:
Feet up, drinking champagne, and choosing from a wide variety of movies and menus offered to only the most valuable customers, people who deserved it. People like me.
The day of the flight came. All the regular passengers checked in, and there were 6 of us waiting for standby tickets. We were told that there were three seats in business class available, but that some of us would have to fly economy class. I looked at the others with pity, poor sods, having to sit in economy while I enjoyed my luxurious 12 hours in the front of the plane. The tickets were passed out... I glanced at the ticket, gate 94, seat G32, class... Coach.
The horror! How could this have happened? There must have been some mistake. Those two ladies with the paisley baggage must have cheated me, or maybe someone slipped the check-in person some cash in his passport... the check-in lady seemed to know one of the people, she probably bumped me so her little friend could ride. Someone will pay for this!!!
Seriously, these were the thoughts that went through my head as I trudged through security. I had fallen into a trap. The trap of human life... attachment.
Attachment is a very poor translation of the Pali word samudaya. Many people use the word clinging or grasping instead. None of these three words really captures the tone of samudaya, so I'll just use attachment as it has become kind of a standard in Buddhist texts. Attachment is simply giving energy to the idea that you own something, deserve something, or don't want to lose something. According to Buddhist philosophy, it is attachment that is the cause of all human suffering.
We all have ideas about how the world should be. We and our loved ones should have long, happy lives, we should have enough money, we should be rewarded for our work. If we have these things, we should be happy, if we accomplish our goals, we will feel satisfied at last. These are the biggest of our attachments.
Of course, everyone comes with their own set of personal attachments. Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought "that's not how I look!" That's the attachment to your projection of yourself speaking. In yoga people often get frustrated that they can't do certain poses... this too is attachment to the "right pose" or "good flexibility." Or maybe you have your eye on a shirt in a store, and you tuck it in the back of the rack so no one else can get "your" shirt. In reality, it wasn't "yours" until you formed the attachment to it.
Well, needless to say, I had been nurturing this attachment to my "dream flight" for a few weeks, and when the reality turned out to be different, it really hurt! And my first reaction was be angry, to blame, and to see enemies all around me. Even with a Buddhist background informing me of exactly why I felt like that, it took me an hour to get over it.
And here is the real danger of attachment. During that 60 minutes I lost all sense of gratitude for my chance to travel to America for a great price. I forgot that I would get to see my family soon, and that I have the opportunity to travel around the world and have adventures. And I'm sure during that hour I wasn't particularly kind to the security workers, the check-in people, the flight attendants, or the passengers next to me. Attachment spreads suffering liberally!
Anyway, I have the same chance to fly business class on the way home in a few days. But this time I will go to the ticket counter with a much more sane mindset. If I get business class, great! If I don't, then that's also great. Life is great. The present moment is always there, real and accesible, if we can just let go of things enough to see it!
See you soon!
This is only the surface of the four noble truths of buddhism. If you want to learn more this is a nice link.
The best way to get your head around these ideas is to meditate. Come by any Sunday at 6pm for free zazen!
**PS . I didn't get business class on the way home either, but I was lucky enough to have the seat next to me be unoccupied. Without the expectation of a great seat, this small fortune seemed even better.