Primal Scream

May 19, 2012
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Photo by Roger McKeever

Primal Scream
 -Roger McKeever

I returned a few days ago from an awesome trip to Tampa where I was teaching yoga. It's always a joy to re-connect with friends and students. The journey from Portland to Tampa is long, but I'm an easy traveler; I sleep well on airplanes.

My flight to Tampa was a red eye on Jetblue. They handed out these lovely snooze kits, which included an eye mask and earplugs. The snooze kits are a great addition to the pillow and light blanket that I travel with. I snuggled into my seat. Just as I was about put my ear plugs in it started:

Waaaaaaaaaaaeeeeeehhh! Waaaaaaaaaeeeeeeehhhh!

It wasn't the typical cry of an unhappy baby. This was the primal sound of ferocity that curdles the blood. I put my earplugs in, but even the earplugs only slighly muffled the screeching, high pitched wail coming from about 10 seats away. As people put their luggage away and took their seats I could see it on their faces: the horror of knowing that possibly for the next 6 hours they might be locked into a sound chamber of madness. Let me be honest. I actually had the thought: would someone throw that baby out the window!? I chuckled to myself thinking that I knew I wasn't the only one with that thought, and also knowing how terrible it sounded.

The turn around to this story is that I caught myself thinking negative thoughts, wondering if laws could be passed to prohibit this, designing sound proof seats, etc.. I put myself in the mother's position, and I realized how awful it must be for her not only to be holding her screaming child, but also knowing that her baby was basically ruining 200 people's flight experience. Then I put myself in the baby's position. What was going on? Fear? Hunger? Pain? In that moment I felt a little softening in my heart, and decided to practice Metta.

Metta is the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness. It's a practice that helps us to remember that while we each individually want happiness and ease in our lives so does everybody else. When we offer blessings to others, we in turn have greater access to it in ourselves. Here's the blessings I offered:

May you find peace.
May you find comfort and ease.
May your journey be quiet and calm.
May you find rest.

I said this 3 times. Once for the mother, once for the baby and once for everyone on the plane (including myself).

The crying no longer gripped me, but instead opened me to compassion. Eventually I fell asleep. When I woke a little while later the airplane was quiet.

Ironically, and I'm totally not making this up, on my flight home I was assigned to a seat next to a young woman with a baby no older than 6 months. As soon as I sat down the baby started crying. A huge grin took over my face. I met the woman's gaze, and she immediately apologized. I wanted to hug her, but I knew that would be inappropriate so instead I told her not to worry about me, "I don't mind crying babies." I wiggled my fingers at the baby and smiled and made a little goo goo sound. The baby stared back in bewilderment, and then let out a little laugh.

You can now start calling me "the baby whisperer."