Parking as a spiritual practice


It starts within moments of waking up.  First, a glance at the alarm clock, then a quick snuggle with Sasquatch, my over-sized Maine Coon cat who sleeps next to my head, and then the calculating begins.  OK, it’s Wednesday, so I need to get into the parking lot by 9:30 before it fills up so that means I need to leave here by 8:45 which means I have a half hour to putz around on the computer while eating breakfast before I meditate for a half an hour which gives me 20 mins to shower and get dressed. God, I hope the parking lot isn‘t a clusterfuck today. Then I’ll notice my stomach is already knotted up, and I could have sworn it wasn’t like that when I first opened my eyes

Perhaps it is a sign of an improved economy, but the parking situation at the medical center where I work in San Francisco has been getting progressively worse.  But until very recently, I was always able to find a space on my first pass through my preferred lot.  Back then I had the luxury of merely having to practice patience, so steadfast was my certainty that somewhere in the bowels of the lot would be a spot for me. Waiting in the the funereal-paced queue of cars searching for a spot, I would remember that in those cars were people who were suffering. Perhaps the suffering was from a major illness, or even a minor or imaginary one. Perhaps they were a nervous wreck worried about getting to their appointment on time. Or perhaps they were tired and stressed from taking care of an ill loved one. Patience comes easily on the heels of compassion.

Now, however, with my certainty shaken, generating those lovely minds of compassion and patience in my quest for parking is not so easy, and on some days, downright impossible.  So, as part of my participation in the 100 Day Retreat, I’ve decided to make watching my mind around the whole internal  parking drama one of my mindfulness practices.

I’ve never been a particularly disciplined or organized person, so my morning schedule never quite goes as planned. And with every minute of slack I grant myself comes the thought, OK, I can still get into the parking lot. I mean, it doesn’t really fill up until 9:45. So, inevitably, I don’t leave the house until the last possible minute of having any hope of easily getting a spot.

Unfortunately, no one on the roads seems to care that I’m on a schedule, and that if I’m late the results will be catastrophic. Catastrophic, I tell you!  So, every few seconds I glance at the clock at my dashboard, carefully calculating whether or not I’ll make it to my destination before the parking apocalypse occurs.

If all goes as planned, and the Lot Full sign isn’t up and I can simply breeze in, I feel my mind and body immediately relax. All the preceding drama  and anxiety is quickly forgotten.  However, if the Lot Full sign is up, or if there is line of cars going down Geary waiting to get into the lot, that’s when my mental goat rodeo really begins.

With each car ahead of me, I can feel my mind get a bit tighter.  Suffering sentient beings, my ass!  These people are the competition who were out to take what is rightfully mine.  The nerve of them to want to get into my lot.  But, I’ll ignore the Lot Full sign (as everyone does) and take my place in the slow-moving queue. Rather than a mind of patience, the best I can muster is bored acceptance of my possible fate of having to endure an unfruitful journey through the five circles of parking hell.

Sometimes it may take a couple of  slow, painful journeys down and back up the five levels of the lot, or even trying the lot across the street, but when a spot, my spot, finally opens up, an exultant hallelujah floods my soul as if I had just found Jesus, or a favorite earring that I thought was lost forever.  I feel a wave of gratitude that my quest is over, and while I may be a bit flustered, I’m genuinely happy that it all worked out, even if it took a half hour to find a spot.

Does being mindful of my own insane obsession with parking make it less painful?  Yes, I think so.  Occasionally I find myself quite amused with the dire consequences I’ve created in my mind that have no correlation whatsoever with reality.  And rather than get angry about having my dearest parking wishes go unfulfilled, I simply recognized it for that it is; parking is dukkha, just another example of Buddha’s First Noble Truth.

Maybe one of these days I’ll have the wisdom to simply let go of all my grasping at expectations around parking. Or it just might be easier to take public transportation.


7 responses »

    • Leaving earlier would entail waking up earlier which would entail going to sleep earlier. And while I am loathe to say that it would be impossible to change, I would say it’s unlikely to happen. I have self-diagnosed myself with a mild case of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, so let’s just say my inability to get anywhere before 9:30 is a medical issue. Besides, my commute time would probably double if I tried to get to work earlier. Yeah, I’m spoiled, I admit it.

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