illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
One of the safest travel options (w.r.t. short-term accidents, not long-term pollution…) is by plane. You’re more likely to get attacked by a shark, struck by lightning or to win big on the lottery than you are to become a commercial flight fatality.
Pollution being a serious issue which affects all, train is to be responsibly preferred whenever possible, for an even better short-term risk and a lower long-term impact!
One of the reasons for such commercial flight safety is strict obedience to rules. You don't see planes cut corner to pass in front of another plane for take-off… If they're told not to take-off, they don't argue. If they're told not to land, they don't argue. They might communicate relevant information with air control, but insulting others isn't ever seen as constructive (not even to let steam off). Ethics, taking others into account, and creative but responsible engagement are not optional.
Another reason for such safety is caught by one word: "checklists". Now, checklist could be naïvely perceived as disempowering, taking away individual responsibility, sending people in automatic. But that's just that: naïve.
Going through a list is a way to cultivate constructive habits (and car owners could benefit from the same rigour of walking around their vehicle prior to every single trip). It's responsible to cultivate wholesome habits: it works. Maybe the pilot would rather have a beer, but this individual preference isn't the point of life, is it? Our actions have consequences, and we ought to take them into consideration since we cannot escape them. There's nothing wrong in wanting a beer, but either you refrain from it or you don't fly. Simple. The choice is still yours, you're responsible, just don't expect to get away from the consequences. And some consequences are dire enough that not refraining from one behaviour (drinking) ethically requires refraining from another (flying), to avoid combining seeds of disaster.
Going through a checklist also is an anchor, it keeps you in the present, in the awareness, as long as you don't cheat, as long as you don't cut corners (e.g. ticking boxes without actually checking… to go faster).
While you go through the various boxes, you cannot just think of something else, you cannot let your thoughts drift to how great the party was last night or what will be on TV later… The checklist helps you to be present, to be aware of the causal web in which you engage, the tools you'll use, the conditions in which you'll use them, even you own mental agitation.
One key technique in breathing meditation is counting breaths. You're asked to count from 1 to 10, then start again: it's not about counting some grand total of breaths, but it's the checklist idea. It's an anchor!
One 'rule' is to restart from 1 every time your mind drifts into thinking about something else instead of paying attention to the breath happening right now. If you do so truthfully, you're unlikely to ever reach 10 (until you've clicked many hours of training… and even then you become better at noticing micro-drifts, and you still rarely reach 10)! It doesn't matter, it's not a race, it's not about "making it", it's about the anchor, it's just a help, an expedient means, a support.
If you understand how this anchors you in awareness, in the present, how this trains you to detect mental drifts (to past and future), then you understand why commercial flights benefit from checklists. They're the opposite of automatic reaction, if practiced truthfully: they're anchors in the present reality, the present conditions, this plane and not that plane, today's level of tiredness and not yesterday's…
So how do you extend the benefits of meditation to life outside the cushions? You may try lists!
You might get a notebook (an electronic version might be okay if you're disciplined with your computer use, otherwise paper is more likely to be effective —it can be recycling paper, or the back of a one-side prospectus, or used envelopes from mail you received, you don't necessarily have to cut extra trees for this).
And with your notebook, write lists! Write down life's lessons! Start noting causes and effects, to learn how to navigate the world constructively: rely on facts, not just impressions (distorted by individual biases)! Reflect on these observations. Complement your good intentions with a plan, with reason, with insights.
It's great to aim to fly safely; now, how will you achieve so? Intention is not enough. The intention is embodied by giving yourself the means to get there, so intention might manifest as a notebook and to-do lists! Don't fear the automatism, constructive 'habits' are wholesome even if they're habits (in Buddhism, that's the ethical frame: it doesn't Liberate you but it certainly doesn't hinder you either, it's conducive to supportive conditions)! Habits might back you up the day you forgot the list and still need to cope, out of necessity.
Lists do not involve automatism, if you practice truthfully: each tick is mindful! Mindfulness is not enough though (the eightfold path isn't reduced to the mono path: "right mindfulness"), hence the list, hence the use of information (from reason and from emotion too)! Mindfulness gives little without processing, without engaging! You're mindful of the situation at hand? Great! But now, how do you respond? A box isn't ticked: what do you do? Assume everything will be okay and tick it anyway, pretending you didn't see the problem (because no one can prove you did)? Check again? Take the responsibility to anger passengers and bosses, for the sake of their own safety?
« Dharma gates are innumerable: I vow to master them all » is a bodhisattva vow.
Lists may be gates too, just like the precepts. The cultivated restraint and discipline support you to be mindful, and to get beyond one's personal preferences in the moment (i.e. to let go of self-centric blindness: the safety of all is not just about you). Even if you're "ready to run the risk", you're not ethically entitled to endanger others, you're part of a bigger reality. Lists might help you to take a step back, from a self-centric, narrow "I'm ready…" to a more complete, reflective "how is this beneficial, in a larger scheme?"
photo: statue from Byodoin Temple, Japan.