Satori in the Manhattan Skies

Satori is an ancient word, used to describe the ability to act without thinking; mind and body becoming one, the individual reacting to the situation, and making the correct decision based on his or her own experiential knowing. For the onlookers to such an act, there are few things in the world that can be felt so warmly, or as profoundly, as watching pure natural ability take hold. When the resulting outcome is an insurmountable save, the play cannot be greeted with anything else than grand applause!!

Earlier this week, the world was able to view this in real time, as US Airways flight 541 lost both engines shortly after take-off from LaGuardia, and Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully) had to make a monumental decision – a huge, big, important monumental decision upon which 155 people were relying. Air traffic control came on Captain Sully’s headset, and informed the flight crew that they had a runway ready for landing, back at LaGuardia. What they heard in response was the last transmission from Captain Sully, “We can’t do it…We’re gonna be in the Hudson.” Over the rooftops of one of the most densely populated areas in the world, Central Manhattan – New York City, Sully decided to choose his own runway. That runway would be the near-frozen mighty Hudson River.

With his Airbus 320, where the engines sit proudly on the undercarriage of each wing, air traffic control alerted the authorities and Sully started his descent down his new runway sans pavement, sans lights, and sans landing gear. People and their camcorders, cameras, and telephones poured out their office and apartment windows and witnessed the feat, as Sully landed his craft tail first, then mid-body, then nose; a near perfect water landing that did not result in ANY damage to the undercarriage of the plane, which is something that few technical experts can believe. One has to wonder how often this maneuver is practiced in the countless pilot education sessions and flight simulation sessions that these pilots endure month after month, year after year. Few professions in the world pay as close attention to state-of-the-art training and simulated sessions than does the Professional Pilots Association. Can you imagine if the physicians of the world had to endure the same mandatory training that these pilots do?

This resulted in one hundred and fifty-five people standing on the sinking wings of the plane awaiting rescue, with not one life lost. The money card had to be the decision that was made. It wasn’t that it was the ONLY solution but given the staff, the time, the craft and the rescuers involved, it surely shall be hailed as a very good solution to what should have been a tragic accident. And the question that has to arise out of the chaos is, how can we teach people to use their skills and their experience in reacting to crisis? How do we teach our children critical thinking techniques that allow them to do the right thing even when told by authoritarians that it is not?

Experience and practice, along with the support of such critical thinking ability, aid in Satori, as any Marshal Arts expert can attest. Practice the moves over and over, and when those moves are needed most, they will come in perfect balance. Captain Sullenberger is a hero because he did his job in perfect balance.

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