Is Life like a balloon ride?

Is life like a balloon ride sometimes?

“I can only control the up and down, I can’t control the direction we go in.”

– Jerry, the balloon pilot

Taking a vacation break last month had me thinking about the nature of time and about using life more deliberately. This wondering came from hearing someone say they wanted to leave this life all used up. That captured my attention. What would that mean? How would that look? Would I use my time differently? Then I did something this past weekend that gave some response to my questions. .

I had the great good fortune to take a hot air balloon ride over my city and an outer rural area. Floating into the air on wind power and the right conditions inside the balloon transported me into an altered experience of the speed of life. In getting into the basket, I surrendered my control in making something happen. The only choice I had was my state of being. Was I going to allow myself to take in and respond to this experience or was I going to resist it in some way – with fear, with distraction, with discomfort of some sort?

Recently I was told that a moment measures between 2-3 seconds. That seems about right and it also seems shocking to know that we ride a very narrow edge on present moment living. We can miss big parts of and the depth of our life with so many distractions and activities. But if we’re fully present, that edge widens, time boundaries disappear and life is as it is.

In the air, floating on a gentle breeze, open to space above and below, in silence except for the occasional sound of the fuel firing, and soft comments from my companions, I felt completely present, my whole bodymind in a state of awe, initially sensing the little bits of frozen excitement (fear) that sparked, and most of all feeling deeply grateful for experiencing perspective, place, and time in this way.

Madison from the air

As we quietly rode the air currents over the city in the early morning, I was also aware of all the activity that was going on below. There was the big Iron Man race beginning just below us. Thousands of people lined the lake shore making lots of sound….and I was floating above it all in silence. This reminded me of meditation practice. No matter what the thought stream and noise going on in my mind, I can be in awareness of the whole of experience. When in full awareness, all is quiet.

The flight over the countryside with the occasional fuel firing sound startled the wildlife. Seeing large flocks of Sandhill crane and geese take flight from above gave me a clear sense that I was one of them, moving along and taking advantage of the air current.

Lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, come to mind.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

At first glance, life might be seen as a series of balloon rides; we begin somewhere, we’re taken along on a current of some sort, and we land where we can, sometimes by intention, sometimes by accident. Looking deeper though and with more observation, there are a number of choices and lessons along the way that clearly indicate a co-creative partnership is always at play.

Here are three lessons I learned (again):

  1. It’s a good idea to keep lightening my load so that I can move easily in what I need to attend to. After the ride, I packed up some books I’ve been keeping for no good reason to give to a place that can use them. I immediately felt lighter.
  2. I have more control over my perception than I thought I did. Feeling the little bits of fear especially when I had an image of falling out of the basket, alerted me to pay attention to the simple guidance for keeping safe and to the larger experience around me. I would have been miserable the whole time aloft if I only held that fear producing image.
  3. It’s important to figure out a way to create what I most want and to be doing what most expresses who I am in the world. I had to make a number of arrangements to make this balloon ride happen. And it got canceled a number of times due to wrong weather conditions. After the last cancellation, I almost gave up. I didn’t think I could make another arrangement. However, I breathed and moved and wiggled my way back into remembering that I’ve wanted this experience for a long time and it wasn’t right to deny myself just because of a few challenges.

I encourage you to give yourself something today that creates a present moment experience. It might be sitting for a few minutes in silence, experiencing life in you as it arises. It might be bringing yourself as an open heart and mind to a loved one or to nature. It might be scheduling a hot air balloon ride or some other adventure outside your normal routine. Go for it. Go into each moment with intention and wonder.

My best to you all along the way.

rainbow hot air balloon filling up

About the author

Suzanne Kilkus

Suzanne Kilkus is a Soto Zen meditation practitioner and teacher and has practiced as a therapist and counselor for over three decades. She is dedicated to assisting people in expanding their capacity for giving and receiving love, and for recognizing and expressing their basic goodness in everyday life. Her path to live with wholehearted compassion and care is an invitation to everyone. She is a teacher with Open Door Zen Community in Madison, WI.

One Response to Is Life like a balloon ride?

  • Coleen

    I loved this, Suzanne. It put me right in the moment with you!