Buddha enjoying free parking yesterday - © AP Photo

Parking Your Karma

The city of San Francisco has a very large book that lists all of the laws designed to keep the parking situation under control in San Francisco.  It’s called Mission Impossible.  No, not really.  It’s called Crime and Punishment.  Sorry, kidding again.  Its title is The City and County of San Francisco Traffic Code.  It weighs more than most newborns. 

Rules and regulations are indeed important for an orderly society to find a place for 500,000 cars in such a small space. But, the more complex the rules, the harder and more frustrating it is to follow them. This city of ours is phenomenally unique, and parking in this city of ours is a unique phenomenon.  It’s an act that requires significant concentration and, on some days, can require cunning, and nearly transcendental calm.

There’s a Zen saying which tells us that in life, there will be obstacles to our pursuit of happiness. And, ironically, that these obstacles are the very path to happiness.

The obstacles bring up anger and frustration because we want to be happy now.  We want our needs met now.  We want a parking place now.  Once we have it, we will be satisfied and happy…until the next time.  According to the Zen Buddhists, it is in the navigation around and through these obstacles that we learn to minimize suffering, and then create space for happiness.  And, not to get too philosophical (well, maybe just a little), parking is the perfect obstacle with which to practice!  By going into a rage or a panic, we lose our cool and often miss the joy of what is happening right in front of us (for instance, the joy of the event we are about to attend, or quite possibly, a parking spot opening up). 

An obstacle such as parking can cause negativity that can carry a dark cloud into the rest of our day, or it can help us cultivate patience, and even a sense of humor.  Once the obstacle is overcome, we have a brief impression of everlasting happiness…until we come up against the next obstacle and start the process all over again.  It’s all about how we deal with daily difficulties. 

This challenge can be used as a tool taking us into the next moment in better shape, with a stronger chance of each following moment being a good one as well.

Contrary to an attractive but deceiving belief, the goal of happiness is not for life to be blissfully easy all of the time.  It seems that a steady and enduring happiness results from how we approach inevitable problems and obstacles, not from holding to the idea that we should not have any obstacles or challenges in life.

Life is not something to get “solved” or to “beat.”  We get it, we lose it, we are happy, we are sad, we get what we want, we lose what we had, things are born, and things die.  The peace comes when we allow room for all of this to happen.  Trying to get to a place of everlasting pleasure (which some think is what heaven is) is not what this journey seems to be about.  The pursuit of and attachment to permanent happiness and the attempted avoidance of all obstacles usually, in time, will create exactly the opposite.  It is a cycle that actually causes us to suffer more deeply, more often.

The first noble truth of Buddhism tells us that on this planet, there is suffering.  We all will suffer and we all will feel pain.  There is no permanence in this world, and we cannot guarantee anything to remain static and give us lasting security.  This is something we all try to avoid.  However, with the acceptance of uncertainty and challenges, there is born a willingness to confront them full-heartedly and to dance with them.  To be okay with uncertainty and the daily obstacles to permanence, and to have room for change and the chaos that sometimes comes with it, is a way of being that leads to happiness …in each moment

Finding the Sweet Spot is a toolbox with information that will leave you feeling at ease about the obstacles and suffering, in one daily aspect of your life – parking. 



Some believe that being truly successful in finding a parking space in the City is simply a matter of luck.  It is true that luck is a valuable companion.  But others have come to believe that it is Karma that brings consistent parking victories.  Parking Karma. Laugh, if you must.  However, you have probably noticed that some people always seem to be able to find a sweet parking spot with ease.  If you look more closely, you may find that it is those who drive and park with awareness, while they are also being courteous of fellow drivers and conscientious of their surroundings, seem to be the “lucky” ones who easily find a parking space. 

Or maybe you don’t notice them, because they are the ones who are NOT jumping up and down, pulling out their hair, and ranting about parking like we are…they are driving the car just ahead of us who claimed that vacant spot that we didn’t see.

Karma is a belief that the fruits and rewards of our actions are directly connected to the pain and/or joy that our actions bring others.  “Traditionally, Karma is the record of all actions from all lives, the consequences for which are determined by the intentions of the act, not the consequences of the act.”    It’s not about punishment; it’s about the impact of our actions on others that come back to us.  Finding the Sweet Spot will illustrate ways in which you may unknowingly be piling up bad parking Karma. 

Parking Karma is continually flowing within and around the parking space-time continuum.  This means that you have some control over your Parking Karma account, which you can compare to a bank account.  Your actions have impact on others – courtesy makes a deposit in your account; spot-stealing and road rage make a withdrawal, in the form of your negative actions coming back to you in another form. 

If you’re not a believer of Buddhist ways and/or have a difficult time believing in Karma, let me present to you a Christian way of looking at it.  According to the Christian law of cause and effect, sin and death can be overcome by Love.  So, in essence, even if you’ve committed many parking sins, or are feeling like you are about to commit a sin because you can’t find a #$%&^@* place to park; you can come clean by parking with Love – not driving like a maniac, not double parking, not boxing people in, leaving enough room for them to get out, not bumping into others’ cars, letting somebody else take the spot that you “found first”, etc. 

From a place of openness and Love, good things, including a rockstar parking place, can and do present themselves.  Here’s an example a friend shared with me recently.  She was circling in North Beach looking for parking so she could meet her friends.  No luck.  Up Columbus she went yet again.  She was going to catch the green light, but there was a pedestrian crossing.  She stopped to let him pass and missed the light.  Damn.  However, on her next pass down Columbus, the man flagged her down and asked her if she was looking for parking.  She said yes, and he said, “I’m parked right up there, and I’m leaving.  Come and take my spot.”  Instant Karma, or cause and effect at your service.

Not buying that way of looking at it either?  Okay, then let’s look at it from a western, scientific, and logical point of view: The butterfly effect.  According to Wikipedia, the “Butterfly Effect” goes like this:

A butterfly's wings create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or, for that matter, prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wings represent a small change in the condition of the weather system, which causes a chain of events ultimately leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.

Like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, something as seemingly innocuous as a car double parked or parked in a bus stop zone quickly blocks one lane of traffic, leading to a back up to the previous stoplight, causing four fewer cars to get through the intersection per light, creating gridlock with the crossing traffic, which in less than five minutes will lead to a traffic snarl that will continue to grow during rush hour and not dissipate until long after that double parked car leaves.  This can lead to hungry children as a caregiver is stuck in traffic, a missed job interview for somebody, the busses being 15 minutes off schedule …you get the idea.

And if none of the above perspectives of natural order are to your liking, then The City and County of San Francisco Traffic Code might be your preferred source of
altruistic inspiration.  It will swiftly get you to become aware of how your actions can directly affect the parking fate of yourself and others.

The specific chapter of the SF Traffic Code that will bring you a heaping spoonful of enlightenment is called the San Francisco Schedule of Traffic Citation Penalty Payments.  One could see this as the tough love perspective.  Quite simply, if you do something inconsiderate or unconscious that adversely affects your fellow citizens, you will be penalized and punished monetarily, and possibly have your vehicle taken away from you by a tow truck..

However you look at it, a little common sense and some courtesy will go a long way toward increasing your overall parking success and reducing our collective stress – the parking Gods, Karma, Love, Science, or a San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic officer will see to it. 

You have choices.






© 2006-2009 David LaBua