It is both rush hour and the unofficial start of the weekend. Sluggish traffic moves in dribs and drabs of chrome and tinted window. I am in my car, and this is my third time to circle my destination.
I am bad with directions. I can’t parallel park. And I can’t find the entrance to the parking garage.
When I finally make it into the garage, there is a white car ahead of me at the kiosk to get a ticket. Two garage attendants are working on the kiosk; they have it open and are trying to load in more paper. When they take out the entire printing mechanism, the younger worker smiles at me apologetically. I pass that apologetic smile along to the man in the white car, because he wants to back out of the parking garage. As bad as I am with directions, I’m worse with driving in reverse. My spatial reasoning skills are non-existent, and the entrance to the parking garage is a corkscrew of concrete and orange-plastic barriers. If I back down, I’d either hit the wall or destroy my rims on the curb. I’ve destroyed rims before; it is an expensive habit. So here we are, stuck in a situation we never would have chosen.
I experience the events in my external world as being indicative of my psyche and, from that perspective, there was nothing accidental about my parking garage misadventure. This past week, my mind has snagged in a whirlpool of counterproductive thought. The same angry reasoning keeps circling around itself, swimming just beneath the surface like a shark in shallows. Impatient and nipping, it goads me into wasting time considering things I cannot change. It is not meditation. It is aggravation. I go round and round, just like I did in the parking garage.
The circling thoughts generate two contradictory urges. The first is to lash out, to inflict my anger and indignation on someone; it is the equivalent of smashing right through the lowered parking garage arm. The second is to try and suppress my anger, which would be the same as getting out of my car, walking out of the garage, and pretending not to notice that anything is wrong. Neither is a graceful solution. Is there a third way, one that is not driven by the heckling, sharp-toothed thoughts fraying my calm?
I think there is. I can accept my feelings because they are legitimate denizens of my psyche. They are me, I can’t hide from them and remain at all self-aware. Acceptance doesn’t mean pretending not to feel something. It simply means welcoming the sensation, and taking it as a reminder to be mindful and practice compassion towards myself as I deal with the emotional storm. Mindfulness prevents me from lashing out in damaging ways that would only serve to increase misery by spreading it to others. This doesn’t mean I will avoid the situation or not address the problems. I will, but out of a place of co-operation rather than anger. It won’t be an attack or a recrimination, but an opportunity to make things better than they are.
Each interaction is a chance to become, and every challenge is an opportunity to decide how to live in the moment. It’s easy to be nice and practice loving-kindness when things are going well. It’s reality to need to learn to practice when the thought-sharks are nipping.
The other night, in the parking garage, I drove up to the roof. I stood at the side and looked out on the city that has become my home. I looked up, and saw the stars I have grown to love and welcome in their yearly transit. I couldn’t have reached that point without a lot of circling – both within the garage and on the street before I found the entrance. What seemed like a setback led me to a beautiful moment, and I believe that if I stop feeding my sharks a diet of anger, I will end up exactly where – and who – I need to be.
The situation that was making me angry has been resolved. By tending my anger and not allowing it to cause me to lash out at someone else, I was able to focus on doing what I could to help the other person (who never intended to anger me). The act of co-operation ended with feelings of gratitude on both sides, and is proof that well-tended anger can produce good outcomes.