How I learnt to meditate to calm my “monkey mind” and overcome my fear of flying

I’m not a spiritual teacher or any kind of guru, I’m just a normal girl, so, like many people, meditation has not been an easy thing for me to get to grips with. It seems so simple doesn’t it? Just sit there, close your eyes and quiet your mind – but it’s not always that easy (at least it wasn’t for me).

I started trying to meditate about four years ago and my idea of what meditation was was a transcending cross-legged Buddha being transported into another realm with a clear, empty mind – no thoughts at all. That sounded great to me. I suffer with the “monkey mind” like many of us. I’ve always had an active and chatty head and although I’ve grown to appreciate some of the positives that come from this – having an active imagination is where my creativity lives – sometimes it’s exhausting and I wish it would just shut the *$#% up.

So, having never meditated before, I decided to dive straight in with an hour long meditation class at a posh yoga studio in Chelsea, where I was living at the time. I hated it. I felt insecure – all these people looked like they’d just stepped out of a six month long sabbatical in an ashram in India. Clad in perfect “meditation outfits” they seemed to be able to sit there and not move or fidget. I love the book and film Eat, Pray Love and the scene in it where she is trying to meditate and her mind keeps thinking about redecorating. This was me. I was thinking that my bum was sore on the hard wooden floor; I was thinking about how I could manage to move and get my leg back to life without disturbing the whole class, as I had pins and needles; I was thinking about a guy I fancied and then I started planning what I was going to have for dinner. I immediately went home and ordered some hareem pants, maybe having the right outfit would help.

During that time of trying to get in to meditation I also started to get back into yoga and I loved the five minutes lying down in shavasana at the end.

I also started reading Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. This really helped as it made me think about meditation in a different way. Then I had my first chance to experience how powerful meditation is.

I used to be terrified of flying – the white knuckle, hyperventilating into a paper bag, crying type of fear, which is a problem as I love to travel. So every time I had to fly long haul I would drug myself up with valium and sleeping tablets and drink as much alcohol as possible. If I was going on a short flight for work or a break I would be anxious, jittery and so frightened I could not relax. Fear is a powerful thing you feel it in every inch of your body, that’s what it’s designed for – fight or flight – but if you are stuck in a metal tube thousands of feet in the air and you can’t move or get away from the source of the fear – it’s terrifying!

The first time I flew sober I was dreading the thought of getting on a plane without taking anything. But my sister lived in South Africa and I had a baby nephew to go and meet so I clutched my copy of the Power of Now and downloaded a meditation app. To my amazement it worked. I was less anxious than when I took my cocktail of fear suppressors (which didn’t work I was just a bit dopy but still petrified).

Fear and phobias are in the mind and so it makes sense but this was a real epiphany for me – I was dumbfounded. That fear was so powerful, how had it just gone?

I also realised that while sat on a plane, I wasn’t wearing the perfect outfit, I wasn’t sat cross-legged with my hands in mudras; I was just sat strapped into a British Airways chair with my eyes closed. This experience (and the book) changed my perception of meditation and allowed me to drop my judgments and ideas about how I should and shouldn’t do it.

To my own amazement I now fly with no problems at all. I’ve flown all over the world often on my own and all I need to take is the tools I’ve learnt through meditation.

Over the years I’ve now been practising meditation, sometimes I go to classes with a guided meditation with a teacher and I now love that but most of the time I do it alone at home. I just try to be present, if thoughts come up to just acknowledge them and not get sucked into them. Sometimes I sit cross legged and with my hands in mudras, it makes me feel connected but sometimes I just lie down or sit in a chair with my hands on my knees. Sometimes I do it while washing up or out walking. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes I still fidget and sometimes I can sit there for 20 minutes peacefully.

I usually aim to do five to 10 minutes a day of just silent meditation and then one five to 10 minute guided meditation on an app. I like Relax Melodies, Third Ear 10% Happier.

It just grounds me, gives me some peace and brings me back to the hear and now, to the present moment, where everything is ok.