Finding Wisdom on a Flight to Dallas

mettā letter 2

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dear fellow soul,

One of the most enjoyable parts of travel is meeting new people. A new encounter is an opportunity for one to lay down one’s shield, let the ego rest, and allow one’s true self to shine through. This is more challenging the more a person is around others with a shared history, a shared relationship, and shared life events. But when a person travels, a person gets a clean slate if they so choose.

After entering the plane on my flight to Dallas, I found my window seat. There was a woman sitting in the adjacent seat whom I asked to excuse me so that I could take my seat. She had a pleasant smile, and if there is anything I have learned, it is that if you meet someone with a smile, strike up a conversation with them, because there is a good chance they know something worth knowing.

After getting settled in, we started chatting and it turned out we had a lot of common interests. From our affinity for tiny homes, living in nature, to our shared interest in psychology and philosophy. The three hour flight just flew by (pun intended).

On the exterior our lives appeared very different — she was african american, lived in a big city her whole life, had a steady corporate career and grown children, while I was a mix of caucasian and hispanic heritage, lived in a small town most of my life, unattached to a career or a child. The contrast of the exterior from the interior is what made the connection so compelling. It just goes to show how the superficialities of life can easily mask how similar two people can be. It is just a matter of being open to the possibility of getting beneath the surface.

But this letter isn’t just about a story of a chance connection between strangers.

After the plane had arrived at the gate and we were waiting for the passengers ahead of us to deplane, we didn’t even know each others name, so I asked her. She said her name, and I asked her to repeat it because I didn’t know if I had caught it correctly. She said it again. I had to think about it though, because I knew I had never heard this name before, yet it sounded so familiar. So I was a bit confused, quickly searching for the answer to this puzzle.

After a moment, she told me it rhymes with “Tonya.” And she repeated it a third time, “Panya.” With that explanation, I knew I understood her. I told her I had never heard of that name before, and asked if it had a meaning. She said it was a word in Swahili. Her mom intended to give her the name of “little one” or “little child”, but it turns out that word in Swahili means “mouse” or “rat”. It appeared to me that she wasn’t pleased with this mistake, and understandably so.

It took me a little while, but after saying her name aloud in my head, I figured out the puzzle. Her name is also a word in Pali, the language of the Buddha. It is spelled “paññā”, and it means “wisdom,” or “insight in the true nature of reality.” I offered this bit of information to her.

In my estimation from our encounter, it fits her well. But it is really up to her to decide if she will accept it into the story of her life.

You see, we all have a story we tell ourselves. It could be named The Story. Whether we realize it or not, we have the choice to define the meaning of anything and everything that happens in our lives. If you abdicate that choice, if you give up the opportunity to choose a meaning, in that moment you give up your power. In physics, there’s a postulate attributed to Aristotle called “horror vacui”, or more commonly explained “nature abhors a vacuum.”

If you vacate your power, if you give up the ability to choose the meaning of the events in your life, nature will fill it in for you. Other people will fill it in for you. Society will fill it in for you.

So I ask you, what is your story? What meanings do you consciously choose or passively accept in your life?

With mettā,


Dallas, TX, USA

PS Tip o’ the hat to Niall Doherty of Disrupting the Rabblement for inspiring me to shoot a quick video introduction.


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