A few days ago I flew from Florence to Frankfurt. It was a 7.20am flight and I was assigned a window seat. The plane left Florence on time. We flew over the Alps as the Sun began to rise. When you witness a sunrise or a sunset from a plane, once you are over the clouds, you can see all the colors of the spectrum over the earth’s horizon, red being closer to the earth, then orange, yellow, green blue, and indaco fading into the depth of the universe. It’s spectacular. I was sitting there, miraculously traveling many miles per hour, observing the macrocosmic manifestation of the color spectrum.
Once we were over Frankfurt, as we began descending, I could see the clouds under us, covering the earth as far as my eyes could travel. Above the clouds there was clear, rarified air, with the Sun shining bright. The clouds looked turbulent from above. We descended even more and plunged into the clouds. The turbulence hit us and, all of a sudden, the quiet ease of our cruising was replaced by agitation and lack of clarity of vision. All I could see from the window was a grey fog. We descended further, below the clouds, getting ready for landing in a new rainy day in Frankfurt.
It dawned on me (yes, I guess the pun works here) that what I had just experienced was a good representation of the various levels of thought. Let’s take it from the bottom up.
In the day-to-day life of humans, most daily thoughts are connected to survival: if you are privileged –> What time do I need to get up? Where is my phone? What am I eating for lunch?; If not –> Am I going to survive today? How many more minutes do I have to live? Am I going to get out of this hell? This is the level below the clouds. The clouds represent thinking patterns that are related to our habits and attitude. The clouds can be sparse (a thought here and there) or thick (lots of thoughts). Life under the clouds depends on the quality of the clouds. There is turbulence and instability in overthinking, in letting our thoughts think us rather than choosing how we think and what we think about. Right above this level of thinking is a more rarefied, and more elevated level of thinking, where I choose my thoughts. This is what yoga calls ekagrata, the capacity to choose a thought at a time, to start a thought, follow it, concentrate on it, and then let it go at will; the turbulence of inner voices is gone and I can find stability in cruising (i.e., living). Above this level is the deep indigo of space, a place in which there is no more distinction between being and thinking. The Sun is awareness: without it, I would have not been able to see anything at all outside of that window. Life would not exist.
Why is this useful? I was caught in a whirlpool of thoughts today that caused me to feel agitated and anxious but when I remembered this experience, it was very easy for me to see this one moment as one level of thinking rather than my whole reality. I was “under the clouds” at that moment but there were other levels I could access, if I wanted to. This awareness allowed me to leave the emotional states I was in, take a deep breath, and focus on what was truly inspiring and important.