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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Gibbons

The Missed Flight

A couple of years ago, I was heading back to Spain from England, where I’d been visiting friends and family. I needed to catch a train to the airport and then fly back to Spain. I had everything prepared: reservations, tickets, and schedules. It wasn’t a particularly complicated journey, but I needed to get to the airport in time to catch my flight.

To cut a long story short, I missed my flight. I missed my flight because the train that I’d decided to catch didn’t come. This was the part of the plan that didn’t work. And as soon as I heard that my train had been canceled, I was at risk of sliding into the “danger zone of non-acceptance”—that negative headspace where what’s happening right now is definitely “not okay.”

How do we avoid slipping into negativity when things have gone wrong?

First, we can recognize that these circumstances are completely beyond our control. I can’t fix canceled trains. And I can’t make scheduled flights wait for me to get to the airport. All I can do is resign myself to the reality of what’s happened. I don’t particularly like the word “resign” because it has negative, defeatist connotations. What I’m pointing toward is a kind of dignified resignation, a surrender to what’s happening in this moment.

A common reaction in this type of situation is to try to fix the problem by thinking. The wrong kind of thinking. Not the pragmatic thinking that somehow gets me to the airport, but the kind of thinking that falls into ideas of “poor me” or begins blaming the train company for the cancellation, myself for not catching an earlier train, or my friends who didn’t give me a lift to the airport. But all that negativity doesn’t change anything. I’ve still missed my flight. And this is what needs to be accepted—not in a few hours when I’ve gotten over the shock, but now. Because every moment that I’m not able to accept this reality is a moment that I’m throwing away.

But isn’t it okay if I feel annoyed for a couple of minutes before dropping the annoyance and moving on?

The simple answer is no. It’s not okay. Because ultimately our annoyance is an unnecessary, superfluous reaction. It simply serves no purpose. It may be useful to notice what went wrong and realize that, for example, I might need to readjust my boundless faith in the reliability of British public transport so I’m less likely to miss a flight in the future. This is being practical. But the annoyance doesn’t help in that. It’s an optional extra. A head above my head.

Growing in acceptance involves a learning process. In the early stages, we may find that our annoyance or lack of acceptance still comes up. But as we practice and improve, the time we spend feeling annoyed will become shorter and shorter until in the end we don’t get caught in a negative reaction for even a second. Missed flight? No problem.

Without this kind of acceptance, life will continue to be fraught with difficulty and conflict. But by practicing acceptance with minor problems, we become capable of accepting more challenging circumstances that we might encounter. And the strategies of thinking and ways of dealing with life that we develop help us to avoid falling into unconsciousness. They help us to avoid spiraling into negativity, worry, denial, and opposition to life being the way it is.

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