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untethered, all the way

My hands fly to the armrests at my side as I brace myself for another wave.

The metal tube I’ve been inside of for the past 3 hours has not stopped rattling around, like a giant angry toddler has us in its grasp. Three more hours to go. With every tremor, I cling to what I can stabilize myself with in my 1×1 of personal space.

What I really can’t stand are the sudden drops. As we plummet what feels like the height of several skyscrapers, the floor falls out from underneath me, and a strange weight in my core sinks just as fast. A flame ignites my chest and radiates to my fingertips. Heart pounding, mind racing and looping, again and again. With no way to flee, my nervous system defaults to freeze. Logically, I know that turbulence is a regular occurrence midair. I know that the chances of it being fatal are slim, but logic isn’t helpful here, where my embodied experience is strapped in, a prisoner in the cell of my seat until landing.

It might come as a surprise then that I love to travel; I actually enjoy airports too. You and every stranger are off to somewhere foreign or familiar, with a blank page of your heart open, pen in hand. I write some of my favorite things in the air. Inspiration hits me differently with the perspective from above, when the heavens are closer and the world shrinks out of view.

My amazing aunt and uncle, a retired flight attendant and pilot, have taught me the ropes of flying standby and introduced me to a certain level of peace with the unknown that you have to make traveling this way. You start early in the morning with the first available flight, mentally prepared to spend the day in the terminals carefully tracking passenger totals. You expect all flights to be full, but must remain optimistic to keep up stamina. It’s part strategy, part luck, and all open hands.

After many bumpy trips fighting to keep anxiety attacks at bay, it became clear I had one choice to get through the turbulence if I wanted to get where I needed to be. I had to do something that’s hard for me:

I had to let go.

I had to both mentally and physically make myself go slack, breathe, and become one with the plane, absorbing its every move. As I melted into the seat, the pent up anxiety eventually did too — at last. I felt a release in my chest. I call it “dropping in”. I wasn’t working against my body as the enemy, but with it as my ally. I learned surrender.

But of course, I can’t avoid the turbulence on a flight, or anywhere else for that matter. Those tremors, those events that shake you up have been coming steady for the past few years. I know I’m not alone in that. The havoc of Covid, tough family situations, snags at work — it all comes in waves. We aren’t promised a smooth flight.

After a sequence of bumps, a sudden drop hit late last year. (Insert your own life-altering moment here, one of those things you can’t control that enters the scene and changes the plot entirely.) The floor opened, and down I fell. That strange weight in my chest grew heavier and heavier, turning into a knot I couldn’t undo. Here was my all-too familiar experience at 33,000 feet — except I wasn’t aware that I was in the air to begin with.

But as I fell, I felt this clear choice emerge before me, like it had on that plane. I had a choice to freeze and fight against the panic, or accept that it was happening and surrender.

Well, the only way out is through.

So, I let my body go slack, I let it all out of my control. I let the waves pass through me and dismantle what I thought was true in service to Truth itself. With each decision I made from that space, a thread was cut. Snip, snip, snip, removed bit by bit from what reality was to what it had become. That’s where I am now: untethered.

“Untethered” came up in a catch-up call with Kathy, the founder of FUTURE LYNN. Despite what its definition entails, I held onto the word. It felt like an unlock. What does it mean, to be untethered? Unattached, like a sail cut loose in the wind. I think it means freedom, some days. Others, it feels like fear. Multitudes of realities could unfold from this fork in the road. And here I am, analyzing the gravel, the level of the terrain, and what weather looks better out in the distance over each path. I’ve got a tent pitched at this fork, eyes peeled.

Untethered means really looking at what you were tethered to. I think those threads I snipped, while stabilizing in a real sense for the time, were more illusions of safety than not. And maybe that’s what this has all been about: my mere mortal wrestle with security and anxiety, in needing to know I’ll “be okay” by my own strength through the rumbles of the ride. One hand outstretched and open, the other behind my back with a white-knuckled grasp of the life I’ve known. Compassionately I say, how very human of me.

So what can one do while untethered? Take stock of what is true and what you value, that’s what I’ve gathered. The untethering makes you question, what is this all about? What do I really want?

I can feel it’s time to move.

I’ve known that the city I’ve lived in for the past six years is a stepping stone. After inhabiting two other corners of the country, Seattle has been an unexpected place for me to be and become. With each passing year, I’ve dreaded these nine months of grey, when the clouds spit on you relentlessly and the night drags darkness across the sky too soon. At the same time, I can’t ignore that all this rain has watered me — quite literally, but also emotionally and spiritually. There has been lots of growth underground in the long, dark winter. While there is still so much beauty here, too many of the core things that tethered me to Seattle no longer exist. Seasons have natural endings, and winter gives way to spring. Spring is coming. Although not what I thought I’d be leaving this city with, it’s lessons of patience, trust, and courage that are the true harvest. Untethered is the tension of both the rain and the fruit: a duality.

In this space, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I call the ‘curtain concept’, which goes like this: the two sides of a stage curtain are linked, one side is sadness and the other side is joy. Closing down one side automatically closes the other. How much sadness and grief you can hold space for is in direct relationship to your capacity to experience joy. What may appear to be the safe, middle ground is in fact living numb. These feelings are neither label really, but avoiding the “bad” emotions stops us from feeling the “good”. The duality is important. Vital, actually.

And duality is the most fitting word I can attempt to lasso around this thing we call life. Two things can be true at the same time, one not canceling the other, but sitting right alongside it. And our human hands attempt to hold them together as we experience the dissonance. Disappointed and grateful. Weary and hopeful. Terrified and excited. I am all of these things, at the same time. Untethered isn’t giving way to eternal despair. It’s also not forcing on a stiff armor of “positive vibes only” while the life you knew is coming apart at the seams. It’s acknowledging that both ends of the spectrum are true, simultaneously. Grief and hope. A funeral and a birth. An end and a beginning.

Untethered is that duality, where the past and future meet. I’m metaphorically in an airport of possibility, between what is and what will be for my next chapter. I got through security, but I don’t know what flight I’m going to board, or what city I’m headed for. I’m on standby. Will I get a seat? God, can you tell me, will I get a seat? I feel like I’ve been stuck here for awhile now, scanning the big boards, tracking multiple flights at once, trying to “get my strategy right” to make it on one. The right one.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about flying, it’s how little control I have in it. I need to be properly prepared, in a certain place by a certain time, but I must keep those open hands for what may come. When the plan changes — that boarding door closes and my name wasn’t called, I need to pivot.

How will I know where to go from this in-between? There’s something I’ve found in the glory and grief of standby, while stuck in my plane seat, and over the past few months in this space of surrender. After “dropping in”, the raging fire and weighty tightness in my chest became light and open. A sensation of cool, blue waters flowing through my core is the best way I can describe it. It’s like a soft inner glow. Minty, even — like the Vicks VapoRub my mom used to put on us as kids when we had a cold. Present with me at the same time was this deep knowing that it will in fact be okay. What’s often called a still small voice has been “a still small feeling” to me. Some call it the Universe, I know it to be God. In the unraveling of the life I’ve known, in the surrender of all I have, a tangible peace I can’t deny has met me. I hadn’t felt a full peace like that in… years? And boy, did that get my attention, because I didn’t want to make the decisions I needed to at first. At the end of my strength, at the depth of my despair, something else had to carry me.

As I write this, I am here, tuning into that still small feeling and paying attention to what I’m thinking or talking about when it shows up. I see the throughline of it, how this feeling / my intuition / God / Love itself has guided me to this place all along, but I’m tuned to it in a whole new way. My radio station is set. My compass is re-aligning. And when it’s time, despite the fear, the inevitable turbulence that will come, I will know which is the right flight to get on. I will have a seat. And I will go into that great big sky like a silk in the wind, trusting that I will land where I ought to again.

At some point, I’ll have threads to tie myself to stabilizing things again, another city to really call home. While I long to get even a glimpse, I feel deep within me that the actual having of things like this are beside the point. This is the point: not without flailing and fear, but if I can surrender in the storm, let the waves of emotion pass through me with compassion and acceptance, and tune into that still small feeling while free falling through the sky, then my goodness, what can’t I do?

Maybe untethered isn’t a limbo-land of transition as much as it is a state of conscious being, where you can exist no matter your circumstance — not by default, but by choice. Where both things can be true at any given time. Exhausted and alive. Lamenting and dreaming. The veil between heaven and earth feels thin in this place. The disappointments of this world deeply touch but do not destroy you here. It’s a calm in the storm, no matter how many threads the wind cuts loose. It’s a tender, outstretched palm to the gifts we get to hold, if only for a moment while they pass through our hands like sand. What a tragedy. What an honor.

I’ve been invited to this big untethering, all of it at once. It doesn’t always feel like an invitation, believe me, but I’ve RSVP’d yes to the daily practice of surrender. My bruised hands and heavy heart are open. This vast land of “nothing” is where everything begins. As I fall, what will I find? In learning how to trust and how to surrender, I feel I’m learning how to fly now, hands off the armrests and palms to the sky. Turns out, I’m only ever tethered to one thing: the invisible net that catches me in the open air, when I finally let go.

Alexandra Porter is an editor, trend strategist, and artist who enjoys many creative vantage points. Writing is the thread running through her experiences, from crafting stories in kindergarten to her BFA thesis collection of hand-sewn, poetry-inspired garments chosen to showcase at the 2018 SCAD Fashion Show. When she is not pondering life’s mysteries, Alexandra is often found at the gym, snuggling her mini dachshund, or connecting with friends old and new. She is guided by this phrase: Think with dimension, Create with invention, Live with intention.

All photos also by Alexandra.

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