What goes through your mind when you think you’re going to die


The first two legs of our three leg journey home had been rather … eventful*. So when our Singapore Airlines flight was nearing the end of its descent into Perth, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Finally we were home and I’d be seeing my kids soon.

Then, as if to truly make us feel ‘at home’ the plane started being buffeted around. Good old Perth. Always with the hairy landings thanks to the strong winds that come off the scarp.

Then things started getting really bumpy.

Was I just being over-sensitive, or was our very large plane being thrown around a bit more than was normal?

We got our answer not long after.

Having experienced my first ever aborted landing when we flew into Singapore only 10 hours earlier, I wasn’t keen to experience another. Which was too bad really because there was the delightful sound of the engines screaming as our plane pulled out of the landing and went into steep ascent.

Ant and I looked at each other, bemused but not alarmed. In contrast to the aborted landing into Singapore for which there was no obvious reason (and none given), it was pretty clear the wind was to blame here.

The pilot went round for another go.

Things got pretty bumpy again but this time it looked like we were going to touch down. After all, I could see the tops of trees outside the window from my aisle seat. Then, seemingly at the last possible second, up we went again. Ant turned to me from the window, white-faced, and said “I don’t know where we were supposed to be landing but there was no runway between us just then.”

This was the point where I decided “Well, that’s it, we’re going to die.”

The wind wasn’t going anywhere and Perth’s runways only go in one direction. So there was no real capacity to change things up. And I had zero confidence that the pilot who’d twice failed to land the plane thus far was going to be able to do it on a third try.

What went through my mind at this point?

Well Ant probably won’t thank me for this, but I was glad we were going to die together. I’m not sure why I took such comfort from the thought given it would have been better for our kids if one person survived. But I did!

The next thing to cross my mind was that we really should have updated our will. We made it years ago before we actually had any kids and had decreed that my sister Robyn should be the one to raise our kids. Robyn has three kids of her own now … I’m not sure she’d want to be a mother of five!

The final thing to cross my mind was … nothing. Instead, this incredible feeling of peace and calm settled over me.

I’ve thought a lot about that feeling since. And the best explanation I can come up with was that, for the first time in a long time, I had zero control over a ‘situation’. There was literally nothing I could do to affect the outcome. So I gave myself completely over to the moment and just … relaxed.

It was liberating and exhilarating. Like nothing I have ever felt before.

Is this what true mindfulness feels like?

Is this why people meditate? Is this the payoff when you get meditation ‘right’?

Whatever it is – I’d love to achieve that sense of peace again. But without the whole ‘thinking I’m going to die’ bit.

So fill me in folks. Have you ever experienced that kind of calm? What led you to it?


*As you can tell, we landed safely in the end. Third time lucky. What made the rest of the trip home so eventful? Read about it here.

Comments 20

  1. That’s hairy alright. Obviously glad it all ended fine and it sounds like the trade-off for being scared witless is that consciousness you now have. Hope you can hold onto that sensation in everyday life.

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      Yeah – I think you are right Kathy. It sure was a good trade-off because I definitely want to be able to achieve that level of consciousness again! But without the thinking I am going to die

  2. So glad you were able to find that peace, without having to die to reach it. I don’t know if I’ve ever reached what others may call a zen-like state, but more often than not, I find it pretty easy to be at peace. Because I’m NOT in control, and I’m generally not striving to BE in control.

    And I’m news-phobic. If something major happens in the world, it’s not like I’m not going to find out. I don’t need to spend any energy watching the news or reading the headlines. My people will keep me informed. US media is horrible; I just tune it out.

    1. I hear you emelle! I’m going through major change at the moment and am feeling particularly sensitive to the news. As if the Belgium bombings weren’t enough, the news is flooded with horror. There are some images of abhorrent abuse, loss and tragedy that aren’t easily wiped from the mind. Thank God for forums like this. 🙂

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      Ah well you know me – I like to be in control. I am going to have to start ceding control more in my life I think! Maybe that’s why I struggle with meditation so much?!

  3. Oh my god, this sounds like my worst nightmare! I’m an anxious flyer at the best of times. My worst flight ever was when I was struck down with Bali belly half way through a six hour flight, never been so sick in my life! A nice hostie (who was also vomiting) vowed to keep quiet otherwise they would’ve held back & quarantined the whole plane..we just wanted to get home! Glad you made it home safe.

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  4. So glad you arrived home safely – what a scary experience! But that’s interesting about mindfulness. You’re probably right, about letting go of control. I think the closest I came was on my wedding day (where, unlike me, I didn’t actually stress about it all going smoothly, but remembered my manager’s advice – ‘you’ve paid the people to do their job. So let them do it, and remember just to enjoy themselves’), and when both kids ended up being born by c-section – again, I just felt I couldn’t really do anything else, they seemed to know what they were doing (and as Al didn’t seem worried either, and he works in surgery / anaesthetics everyday, that gave me a lot of confidence). So I just had to let the process take place – luckily very smoothly. I guess they were good experiences to just let go 🙂 (now to put it in place consciously!)

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      Heh – that’s so funny so you say that about your wedding day because I too ceded all control of the day to my mum (I was flat out with work and triathlon training at the time). And it was awesome!

  5. Wow – what an extreme experience! I too would have taken comfort in ‘dying with my husband’ – strange but true. I am a happy flyer especially love that umpf feeling as the plane really takes off! I have developed a ritual of holding hands with hubby for every take off and landing though……to reassure me that we are together.
    Funny that I spent today sorting out our new wills to make sure everything would be ok for our boys.
    That experience of true peace – amazing- I’m hoping to achieve that through lots of mindfulness practice. I hope you can take that feeling and tap into it again.

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      Oh wow – I loathe the ‘ummph’ of takeoff and the ‘bump’ of landing. I am not normally a nervous flyer but do prefer the bit when we are in the air!

  6. Aaaargh. Terrifying. Not sure I’ve ever experienced that moment of peace. (Which means I haven’t, right?) If you ever find the secret, let me know?

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  7. What an ordeal! I would have been frightened too. That is a nice silver lining, however, that you felt such an incredible sense of peace. I’ve felt that before too, and I remember wanting to hold onto it, to bottle it up and stow it away for later. It happened a couple of times during my ordeal with my ex, when I did indeed feel my life was in danger. There is a certain point where you realize there is nothing you can do to change a situation and a total surrender that follows.

    I know this sounds really odd, but some of the best times of my life happened during those first two years of chaos and trauma. I had to let go of all pretenses, all expectations, all my assumptions about my future. There was freedom in that, and a sense of peace. I felt connected to source and like I could just fully be myself without worry about repercussions. I could speak my truth openly and freely, because why not? When you have nothing left to lose, you don’t worry about losing anything. That sounds obvious, but it is really quite profound (at least, the experience of it was profound for me). I’m not sure if this is synonymous with your experience, but I think there may be some overlap. x

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      I think this is VERY profound “When you have nothing left to lose, you don’t worry about losing anything.” And so true!

      I think the only downside of it is, you have to be in a position where you have nothing left to lose in order to experience it!

  8. I would have taken comfort if I’d been with my husband too. I get a bit twitchy if I fly by myself. I once had a near death experience in a car accident but it happened so quick, I don’t think I had time to be calm! I’ve never experienced an aborted landing and to be honest, I’d never have to. I can imagine I’d be feeling lots of things, but calm wouldn’t be one of them. Better start meditating – my next long haul flight is in May!

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      I can safely say, I never want to experience an aborted landing again. The rational side of me says ‘wouldn’t you rather the pilot pull the landing rather than screw it up?’ … but the anxious side says ‘never again!’

  9. About five years ago during state sixth grade testing, I began to have chest pains. With my family’s history of heart issues, I just knew I was having a heart attack. I silently prayed, “Lord, if today is the day you need me, please don’t take me in front of these children.” I wasn’t scared to die. Didn’t think about my husband and our two sons or my mother or anything else. I just didn’t want to scare and/or scar 12 year olds. Since that day, I know that if God wants me at a moment’s notice, I’m okay with that.

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