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 multitask. 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 conscious awareness 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 only one brain cell firing 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 fearful emotion around turbulence, we shut down the creative process and go into the pattern of non-thinking, fight or flight, or we “freeze”. 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 enjoyment.

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… in other words: It’s just information. The information from the wing needs to be felt openly, accurately, clearly, and truthfully.  When we do this, we create the opportunity to respond to that information in the most timely and useful manner. This becomes a virtual impossibility when we are in a state of fear.

For instance, when we feel a “bump” in the air while flying, think of it as information, not as dangerous. From that state of curiosity, we not only have choices, we are also in a creative state that enables us to most likely respond to the information with a more efficient communication about what we want to do with that increase or decrease in pressure or movement back to our wing. 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.  She also 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 meet 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 our 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 ITS language. Your wing always tells you the truth about the parcel of air it is in at all moments. If your right wing tip gets lifted up one foot higher than the left it is not your wing trying to kill you. It is your wing saying “Hey, there is a bit of lifting air on our right, do you want to head right and look?”  Your wing always tells you the truth and remember, it’s just information.