Flying a jet aircraft in close formation is an exhilarating, sometimes terrifying experience. Hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, mere feet from another jet doing the same, takes a great deal of faith in your flight lead. In close formation, your entire world centers on the other aircraft. It is all you look at. Indeed, as close as it is, it is about the only thing you can see.
Flying close formation well requires you to recognize subtle changes in both what you see and what you feel. You know you are in the correct position when specific parts of the other airplane line up with each other when you look at them. In addition to what you see, you also learn to fly by feel. You can feel the change in pressure on the controls, the vibration of the engines, the sound of the wind rushing over your canopy, and several other subtle cues that let you know what your own jet is doing as you maneuver.
Without a constant awareness of what you should see, hear, and feel when all is well, and comparing that with what you are actually experiencing, small changes can turn into big problems.
When I started flying in close formation, I could not recognize when I was slowly drifting towards the other jet. The motion was so subtle that I couldn’t tell I was even changing my position. Time after time the instructor would say “I have the aircraft” as he patiently, and gently, took the controls and put us back where we needed to be, then explained what I needed to see.
With practice, I began to recognize what he was teaching me. I grew to identify the small changes in what I saw and felt. With more experience, I learned what I needed to do in response to those almost imperceptible impressions on my senses to keep my jet where it was supposed to be. Eventually I was able to stay in position through any of a number of maneuvers: loops, rolls, and tight turns that exert a force on your body several times the force of gravity. I could stay close to my flight lead through thick clouds and violent turbulence.
It took practice, and it also took instruction from those who were more experienced and more sensitive than me. By learning from experienced instructors, and by exercising a strong desire to develop that skill, I gained the ability to recognize the impressions on my own.
Recognizing spiritual impressions is much the same. At first, when we are inexperienced, we may not know what it is that we are feeling. With practice, by learning from those with experience, and by exercising a strong desire, we can improve at recognizing impressions, and knowing what we need to do to follow them. As we do, we will be able to stay close to our Father in Heaven through the thickest clouds and the most violent turbulence in life.