Time to head home. I walked out of my Palo Alto office, down the long hall that leads to the parking garage behind the building. I clicked my remote, unlocked the door, and was just about to open it when I saw it – a parking ticket. How unfair! I had been parking in this structure for over a year, often for a few hours at a time, with no problems. Yes, the sign says 3 hour parking, but it was never an issue until today. I was frustrated. Oh well…another $25 down the drain. Better be more careful next time.
I noticed that the car next to me – a BMW – also had received a ticket, but the driver had (intentionally or unintentionally) dropped the ticket on the ground. It was just what I felt like doing – this is bullshit! Screw it – and throw it away. But I knew reality would prevail and eventually it would come back to haunt me – in the form of a more expensive violation.
Parking tickets are interesting wake-up calls. This one was only a minor annoyance, fortunately. OK, pay more attention. And follow the rules, even if they’re inconvenient, you don’t like them, or they don’t seem fair.
A few months ago I had a period of time in which I received 3 parking tickets all within two weeks. Two times a meter ran out, and one time I was ticketed for a space I was accustomed to parking in that recently had been made into a “permit-only” area, unbeknownst to me.
This was completely frustrating! The two meters were solely my fault – I just wasn’t paying attention. Wake up!!! Remember to put those quarters in. Stay in the present moment. Often, when I arrive somewhere I’m already focused on where I’m headed and what needs to be done. The problem is that I miss the present, when I need to remember where I am – parked in front of an empty meter. And I end up paying pretty heavily for simply not being present.
The ticket in the section recently re-zoned for local residents with permits seemed unjust. It had not been that way for long – or had it? I called the number on the ticket for information, and the city informed me that it had changed six months ago. My goodness! I never noticed the signs they had posted. Had I been that careless or inattentive?
The familiar becomes unconscious
Truthfully, I would not have looked for something different in the familiar place that I park every single week. Yet, isn’t that true of our lives? Anything that becomes familiar or routine becomes unconscious. We no longer look at the signs along the street we drive down every day. We don’t pay attention to the other foods along the aisle at the grocery store – we just beeline to our favorite products.
This reminds me of my 3 year old daughter. We’re often driving down a familiar road when she yells out “American Flag!” I’m perplexed. There’s no flag around here. I pause and gaze around to my right, my left – oh, over there! I never noticed that building had a flagpole out front with a large Stars and Stripes flying overhead. My daughter doesn’t miss anything, because everything is new and exciting, in every moment. As adults, we have lost this ability to be in the “now”, and really see what we are looking at. How many flags do we miss, everyday?
Parking ticket on the mat!
In yoga class, once Triangle pose becomes known to us, we tend to stop paying attention. Our mind wanders. We continue to do the pose the same way we always do, and don’t look for new sensations, information, or awareness. Parking tickets in the asanas sometimes show up as losing our balance, pulled muscles, or other minor injuries.
I remember one time I was in downward dog, getting ready to jump forward into Uttanasana. I was well warmed up and had very smooth jumpings until that point. I don’t recall exactly what had distracted me – perhaps I was wondering if my neck was OK to do an inversion, or whether the teacher would help me with dropbacks. But it succeeded in drawing my attention away, just as I made my leap. I smashed my toes into the mat and winced in pain. Moving violation, says the yoga master!
My higher Self exclaims, “Wake up!! Pay attention!!” What can I discover in this moment that I didn’t know before? What important information is out there waiting for me to see? What do I need to learn in order to take better care of myself, find stability, or better alignment in this pose?
Clinging to the familiar box
Sometimes, we get the “parking ticket” – maybe new feedback from a teacher, a suggestion to do the pose differently, a little twinge in our back, or whatever – and we do what the driver of the BMW did: we toss it away. I don’t want to change. I already know this pose. I like how I’ve been doing this for all these years. It’s uncomfortable to change the position of my feet. I really notice how weak my legs are, and I don’t like that. It’s much harder to breathe into my belly or my upper chest, and I’d rather not make the extra effort.
Sure, we can toss the parking ticket aside, but sooner or later it catches up to us again – in injuries, a static practice that doesn’t evolve, or repeatedly running into the limits that we create in our minds. Unconsciousness and ignorance keep us in little, defined boxes. We believe we’re really free, but we’re just asleep, imagining that we’re awake, out of touch with our body, breath, and sensations. The same thoughts run over and over in our heads. The mind takes off on an unconscious trip, like my daughter’s toy dog, being pulled by a string.
Freedom in present awareness
Freedom, on the mat and in the world, comes not from getting more flexible or getting away with breaking the rules. Sure, it feels better when we’re more flexible, and it’s fun to get away with stuff. But real freedom arises when we have complete self-awareness and are not run by unconscious habits and perceptions.
Rather than just settling for the same old pose, explore it anew, and be open to a different way of practicing it. Rather than being run by the same old worries or irritations, recognize when they arise and focus instead on the sun shining in the window or the wood floor beneath your feet. Your new attention may save you from an accident, or inspire you to connect to a new friend – well worth a small citation.
Rather than being angry about the parking ticket, fender bender, stubbed toe, or bounced check, pause and reflect. Maybe this is a sacred parking ticket. What is it calling to my attention? How can I wake up? What needs to change? Pay the fine and give thanks for the renewed awareness.
Copyright © 2003, 2008 by Constance L. Habash