Graphic of airplane with a dotted path in shape of heart

How I came to prefer the middle seat

I typed this from the middle seat on a Southwest Airlines flight from Denver to Tucson. The aisle seat was occupied by a muscular young man with a black t-shirt and sunglasses on, the latest iPhone in the seatback pocket. A woman in her teens (twenties? I didn’t want to stare, though she did have 3 earrings in the ear I can see) was staring out the window at the clouds and brown, craggy mountains that have appeared below. She had been snoozing but recently opened the shade, enabling both of us to peer out.

Woman staring out of plane window

I’m the only one I know who prefers the middle seat. I feel some odd pride about that, a self-satisfaction in my uniqueness. This preference is particularly useful on Southwest. I didn’t even feel tempted to pay extra for the benefits of early boarding, and got a great seat in the fourth row. So–I think it’s time for me to share my prosperity and divulge my secret hack: how I came to prefer the middle seat.

A few years back, I wasn’t so conscious about my seat placement, but ended up in the middle between two rather burly men, feeling a mixture of resentment and resignation. I remember sighing and putting on my headphones, mentally crossing my fingers for a smooth, easy flight home so I could get it over with, and wondering if I’d decide to vie for one—or both!—armrests.

Plane aisle with seats

Somewhere during that lengthy trip, I decided to fill some time by playing a game that I now rely on as an ongoing shift move. I call it “Where do You Want to Anchor Your Consciousness?!” (Cue game show music.) I thought about the story thrumming unconsciously in the background of my mind: “poor me, big men, stuck in the middle, this is gonna SUCK!” In other words, I was solidly in a Victim story, tethering myself to states that moved between Frozen Fear (“don’t move!”) and Despair (“there’s nothing to be done but endure” [weh wah wahhhh…]

inner map graphic

Now that I knew what level I was at, the next part of the game is to decide, well, which level do I want to anchor myself to? What’s a better story? (Here’s more background on these levels, and a copy of the Inner Map.)

I jumped into the level of Appreciation. (Somehow airports bring this out in me. I pass the time in security lines, and especially DIA’s tram, looking at folks and what I appreciate about them. I still remember grooving on this one tall guy’s orange hat). I could have started with a Neutral story (something like, “oh, this is happening, here I am.” Or Acceptance (“I breathe and accept that this is what is happening for me right now.”) But I like the challenge of a good game, so decided to reach higher. Here’s what I started telling myself:

“Here I am. I appreciate being in this seat, that I’m flying through the air. I appreciate the millions of hours that have gone into engineering this plane, the thousands–millions?–of people it took to get me up here right now. And now that I glance to my left, I appreciate that this guy is bigger than me. Hmmmm…I appreciate that if something happened, he’d totally be there to help me. He’s so strong-looking, he’d be great help! And now this guy on the right—he’s there on the aisle, so if the cart bumps into us, he’ll be there to handle it. Phew…that feels great! These two guys are my friends, I know they are, I can feel it.”

At this point you might wonder why in the world do I think they’d be my friends?? Well, there’s no good reason. Just because I decided to tell that story, which feels so much better in my body than the other ones.

Then, with no additional effort, I started feeling loving towards my seatmates. I think that just happens, it’s like our consciousness gets buoyant and carries us up the Inner Map. Love is right above Appreciation. So I started thinking, “oh, this is so nice, my heart is open and warm and happy, I feel like beaming love over to this guy on my left and this guy on my right.”

2 hands holding the word LOVE in their palms

Just imagining that right now takes me right there. I feel happy and warm, kind of gushy.

Keep in mind I don’t think I said a word to either of these gentlemen. But I sure loved on them.

As Gay Hendricks has taught us in “Learning to Love Yourself,” a wonderful side effect of loving other people is that our bodies are filled with the energy of love. That’s what Gay thinks is what loving ourselves is comprised of. He teaches that we don’t love have to love ourselves for some “good reason,” that we deserve it or not, just because we’re choosing. So there we were, sailing along through space in a tiny aluminum capsule, with me immersed in one of the best energies possible, love. I had my two seatmates to thank for all of those sweet, healing chemicals and hormones coursing through my body. Just because I decided on a more expanded story.

Graphic of airplane with a dotted path in shape of heart

Want to start a “We Prefer the Middle Seat!” movement? What do we need, t-shirts or bumper stickers? Orange caps? I’ll be out there looking for you, those of you sitting and waiting until others have loaded on the plane so you can go down the aisles checking people out, choosing the strangers you want to love on. Maybe you’ll pick folks that seem especially tired or cranky, or perhaps just whomever you feel drawn to.

While we’re in this life, every moment we can choose the story we’re telling ourselves. Choose wisely, my friend. Choose wisely. As Sarah Blondin says, “the quality of your life depends on it.”

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