When we encounter turbulence while thermalling (on a reasonable day for paragliding or hang Gliding)
newer pilots tend to feel fear. This is not usually the most helpful emotion. We tend to fly, think and
respond more effectively from a peaceful state. Thus part of our job during the learning stages of
thermalling is to discipline ourselves to stay clear mentally and not clutter our mind with fear.
Efficiency while thermalling demands that we multi task. At any given moment there may be 20 to
40 things that are “requesting” our attention. We notice those requests by filtering and grading them
through our emotional system. The more fearful we feel, the more exclusively we focus on that one bit
of information to the exclusion of the thousands of others (we cease to multitask). This can be helpful
but only if it is truly a dangerous emergency, which thermal turbulence almost never is.
Most humans are capable of bringing to consciousness 3 to 5 brain cell firings out of the 10,000 going on
in any given instant. In a state of fear, that drops to one and that one quickly becomes a repeating loop
that occupies our awareness excluding new information. To treat a non dangerous situation as fearful in
this way is inefficient in the least and dangerous at its worst. These are just brain cell firings not entire
thoughts so having a complete thought about 20 things in an instant and making an informed decision
is quite impossible. This is why we create patterns that we can repeat without thinking. Every time we
create a fear emotion around turbulence we shut down the creative process and go into the pattern
of non thinking fight or flight. It is more useful to create a pattern of “It’s just information”, beautiful,
helpful, useful information. This frees up our mind to notice the bits of information that we can then
interpret and respond to in order to create more efficiency which creates more altitude, distance and
Information is constantly being communicated to us by our wing about the parcel of air that it is
flying through. We must first be in a receptive state (peaceful), and secondly be able to process and
respond appropriately to that information through establishing attitudinal habits of response (It’s just
information). The information from the wing needs to be felt openly, accurately and clearly. Then we
create the opportunity to respond to that information in the most timely and useful manner. This is a
virtual impossibility when in a state of fear.
When we feel a bump when flying, think of it as information, not dangerous. From that state of curiosity
we not only have choices, we are also in a creative state from which we are much more likely to respond
to the information with the most efficient communication back to our wing about what we want to do
with that increase or decrease in pressure or movement. This is understanding and using the language
of the wing.
Example: We are on an xc flight, 2 good pilots on 2 similar C wings. Pilot A is in a fearful and distracted
mood. Pilot B is peaceful and on purpose. Because of this B responds more efficiently than A 93%
of the time during the 5 hour XC flight and ends up flying 18 miles farther than A and feeling better
about herself, the site, the route, the sport, and she had more fun and learned more. B has many more
seconds of efficiency and clear thinking than A and ends up at the top of the lift faster and makes more
efficient choices throughout the day (like leaving lift earlier during the meat of the day).
For pilots, thinking clearly and creatively in each moment is a useful space from which to fly. Flying in
fear is like flying brain dead. There is little or no clarity or creativity. When or mind is more alive and
engaged we enjoy the flight more and make more efficient and safer decisions.
If I notice fear in myself, I repeat in my mind or out loud, “In peace my safety lies”. I also remind myself
that if I am not getting folds of the glider that are over 60%, it is not dangerous. If I do get a deflation of
over 60% the “In peace my safety lies” becomes a little more enthusiastic but that is when the attitude
and clarity becomes even more critical. Your wing is saying, “Here is some information about the parcel
of air I am in right NOW, what do you want me to do with it?” Your wing has a language. It is not going to
learn English, you need to learn IT’S language.