Grounded 'Zen' pilot learns to savour life while locked down in Spain

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Apr 25, 2020

Share this article:

Durban - Aviator and “Zen” pilot, Robert DeLaurentis, who was flying from the South Pole to the North Pole in his plane Citizen of the World, has been caught in Spain by the coronavirus lockdown.

The 54-year-old adventurer, who had covered 22000 nautical miles of roughly 30000 nautical miles from South to North Pole, told the Independent on Saturday this week that one of the primary lessons he had learned since the eruption of the pandemic was that life was to be savoured, and not rushed through in a blur.

DeLaurentis, a former lieutenant-commander in the US Navy and who has a degree in spiritual psychology, was in Durban at the beginning of February as he started heading to the North Pole through Africa, after his trip to the South Pole.

He arrived in Spain on March 16, where he initially stayed at a monastery in north-eastern Spain until the first quarantine started and all non-monks were asked to leave. He moved to Terragona and then to a villa on the hills above Sitges.

Once quarantine ends, he plans to continue his journey after completing some work on his plane.

His epic “Pole to Pole” journey started with his non-stop flight from Ushuaia in Argentina to the South Pole and back again, during which he had to navigate the dangerous “Zone of Confusion” in the 50-nautical mile airspace just before and after the South Pole where GPS doesn’t work.

As a back-up to the high-tech avionics, he installed an old-school directional gyro, as well as taking a line on the position of the sun, assuming it would not be cloudy.

When his tracking equipment failed, “I was clearly on my own, isolated in what could be perceived as a hostile and lonely world. Honestly, I was scared ...”

But between his intermittent modern equipment and old-school equipment, he kept his course.

“When I felt panic at times, thinking I was close to powerless to change what was happening to me, fortunately all my spiritual training came flying back into my mind, reminding me to focus on what I could control and to trust the universe to take care of everything else. I took a deep breath and decided to enjoy the journey and the learning.”

During his recent stay with monks at the monastery, high in the mountains of Monserrat, he asked one of them what he thought about why the coronavirus pandemic was happening.

“His response surprised me, but also calmed me: ‘First, let’s look at what the virus isn’t. The virus is not a punishment by God to humanity. It is the natural order of things. There are illnesses that are contagious in this world. People forget their time on the planet is not forever. People are not conscious that life has its limits, to live has its limits. People like to think they will live forever without limits, but we are just here on the planet for a short time,” the monk told him.

DeLaurentis said: “One of the lessons I’m learning is to let life unfold. On this trip some of my original plans will shift again and for my own good. I will up my game by strengthening my persistence, courage and ability to slow down and savour life instead of rushing through it.

“Life seems to be an endless series of challenges, some big and others smaller. Some people choose to reframe the challenges as lessons - as such they don’t seem to beat us down or punish us, but rather to teach us and help is to evolve.

“The thing that is even more interesting is this: if we choose to skip the lesson, it comes back over and over again, determined to get our attention, until it finally feels like a 2x4 smacking us across the forehead to stop us in our tracks, There are easier ways to learn..”

The Independent on Saturday

Share this article: