Zen and The Art of Alternate Side Parking

Second only to a horse, one of the best “white elephant” gifts you can give someone who lives in Brooklyn is a car.  Legend has it that the King of Siam would gift rare albino elephants to subjects who had displeased him, that they might be bankrupt by the animals’ upkeep costs.  While I’m not shaking a tin cup (yet), when my parents lent me their old car for the summer I had no clue what I was in for.

The best example of how tedious car ownership is in the city could be summed up by my parking ordeal yesterday morning.  It all began the day before when I blissfully found a spot directly in front of my building.  The only problem is that you can’t park there from 7-10am Monday-Friday.  No worries, it was 10:05am and I was all good.  This is where logistics and planning come in.  The other side of the street is a similar story, prohibiting parking from 4-7pm Monday-Friday.  If I can just move across the street at 7pm I should be fine to park for the night and can switch back in the morning at around 10am.  If only it were that easy.  I had a Jui Jitsu class that night at 7pm so I would not be able to park across the street and would instead have to wake up the next day before 7am and find a new parking space.  How hard could that be?

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Cue the rooster crowing and me sliding out of bed in my pajamas ordained with the most tasteful toothpaste drip and hopping into my dad’s old ’07 Town & Country.  It’s a huge boat of a van which in many cases (camping/moving/carpooling) is awesome, but when parking in the city, its size limits your options just a little more.  I look over at the tiny Smart car with envy as its driver seamlessly slips into a crevice created by two other regular sized cars.  Five minutes into my ordeal and I’m turning down the first possible block of parking spots.  And then I see what can only be described as a beacon of hope: a parked car’s brake-lights bursting with light as it slowly backs out of its spot.  It’s a big truck so I will definitely fit.  Not only did I find a spot that I wouldn’t have to vacate for two days, but I was about to park so quickly that I would be able to go back to bed for at least another hour before I had to wake up again.  I hit my turning signal to let all who were watching know that I was about to claim my prize, and just as the truck pulled out an old lady swooped in like an opportunistic vulture on a carcass and stole the spot.

What emanated from my vocal chords in that moment could only be described as primal.  As I jammed the car horn, thousands of years of evolution told me to exact a revenge so severe that it would wipe that kind of thievery from the genome.  If this occurred post-meditation I still would’ve been pissed, but nothing on this level.  When I’m really tired, I’m curt.  When I’m really hungry, I’m gruff.  But the combination at 7:05am with only a few hours of sleep?  In that state, I should be required to beep like a truck in reverse until I get some sustenance.  After circling the surrounding blocks for another 40 minutes I found a spot that I could stay in for about an hour until I would once again have to vacate because you can’t park there from 9:30-11am.

I came home, laid back in bed, and my body hummed with the stress of the ordeal.  A few minutes of conscious breathing later and I came back to reality a bit.  A short time later, I got up again to move the car back in front of my building where it all began as the clock struck 10.  My journey now complete, I was able to settle into a long meditation, allowing me to digest the morning’s events and to give them a fresh perspective.

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Stress is a crucial, and uncomfortable part of the human experience.  This feeling has the power to cripple a person and also to make them grow.  In moments of intense stress, one thing is certain: you will either expand or contract from it.  Parking in the city is nowhere near as stressful as living in a war zone, but both sides of the continuum deserve validation and introspection.  To experience those feelings as an observer rather than an experiencer gives the endeavor new contours to encounter.  Rather than avoiding the feeling of frustration which is nearly inevitable with alternate side parking, invite yourself to experience it fully.  Let the feeling pass through you rather than burying it deep as tension in your solar plexus.  Life is but a dream, so why not row merrily no matter the circumstances.

The gears of the universe turn without caring how you perceive events.  My parking spot was “stolen”.  Bad.  I have the ability to physically walk to my car.  Good.  Alternatively, perhaps missing out on that spot opened up an opportunity to see parts of my neighborhood I wouldn’t have, to exchange a warm glance or smell the garden of an old Victorian mansion tucked away in the rows of tall, square, red brick buildings.  And maybe the “negative” aspect of walking is that it takes us further from the childlike vulnerability that grants novel perspectives and reliance on your fellow human.  But maybe I’m just engaging in what could be best described as spiritual bypassing.  First coined by psychologist John Welwood in the 90’s, spiritual bypassing is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks”.

The parking spot was never mine to begin with so there’s obviously something there that needs to be resolved and explored.  Although it is nice to experience pleasant interactions, it’s the negative ones that provide the most growth.  Reflecting more on the situation I was able to brush the cobwebs off a less examined experience that we all share: unfairness.

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Unless you were the child of Yogi’s, I’m sure you heard the classic line “because I said so”.  Whether it was that dismissal or an infinite host of other experiences that gave you your first serving of unfairness, your initiation into the unfair world was complete.  The side of unfairness that was less taught, however, was that it’s ok to feel that way and that there are ways to manage this feeling.  Without guidance, occurrences of unfairness can lead to obsessive thinking and irrational actions.  In another plane of existence, void of mindfulness practices, I likely keyed the old lady’s car and ruminated on how horrible people are for weeks.  Thankfully this wasn’t the case and instead, I was granted an opportunity for self-reflection in the face of unfairness and frustration.

A few years ago, I helped an overburdened neighbor carry groceries up a few flights of stairs and with gratitude she said, “may you always find easy parking.”  This should tell you something about how New Yorkers value a decent parking spot.

That’s a sentiment I can wish for anyone in the world with a car or car-less.  May you always find easy parking.  And if you can’t, may you find a deep, peaceful breath and an unexplored part of yourself.

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