Thank Heaven For Disasters

NeEddra James’ blog, PARAMECultureWorks, entered my life at a great moment.  She’s a sharp writer and an incredibly insightful soul — and the email conversation we recently struck up reminds me why Internet ‘connections’ can be worthwhile.  You should check out her blog in its entirety, but here I wanted to crosspost a piece that’s been particularly helpful to me over the last few days.

NeEddra’s illustration of the value of wake-up calls gets at the heart of the Buddhist teaching that ultimately there is no good or bad, merit or demerit.  Because every uncomfortable, unpleasant, or downright excruciating event has something to teach us.  It’s a doorway leading to the higher dimension of consciousness attained through nonjudgmental acceptance of what is.  Total awareness and presence of mind. So with the valuable teachings that moments like these can offer, how can we really label them “bad?”

Putting this understanding into practice is no easy feat, obviously.  But little by little, moment to moment, and with the help of reminders like NeEddra’s parking ticket saga, we get there.

Hope you’re having a peaceful day, folks.  Whatever catastrophes (a.k.a. opportunities) come your way.

Offering To The Döns

“Practice offering to the döns* by welcoming mishaps because they wake you up.”

I always read my monthly horoscope on the first day of the month. On Dec. 1 Susan Miller told me the full moon, which reaches its apex today on the 12th, would occur in my third house: the house of other people’s money. She went on to say that I’d be writing a big, non-negotiable check, and with “Saturn in hard angle to the moon…there will be no way to avoid acknowledging one’s responsibility or alternatively, accepting a loss and moving on.”

And so it is.

Since I bought my car in August of 2006 I developed the unsavory habit of collecting parking tickets. I’d park where it was convenient because I was running late. Or, I’d fail to check the street sweeping day. Or I’d do some combination thereof. When I’d return to my ticketed car I’d place the notice of my parking violation either in my bag, or in my sun visor, or in the glove compartment, and then I’d carry on with my day. I’d tell myself I’d pay when I could.  The underlying rationale was that I simply couldn’t afford to pay the ticket at the time of the violation.

Some time in late August of this year I realized I hadn’t received the DMV notice to renew my car registration. I called the Oakland DMV and found that the change of address I thought I mailed to Sacramento never arrived and the DMV continued to mail important documents to my old address. (In retrospect, I think I printed the change of address form, filled it out, and didn’t do much more.) I also learned that I needed to have my car smogged before it could be registered and that the cost of my registration was almost tripple the usual amount. I knew I couldn’t afford it by the time the registration was due. So I resolved to pay it late, or, when I felt like it. As I was doing with the parking tickets.

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, I deboarded BART at the West Oakland station and headed to my car. As I walked up the street my intuition spoke to me:

“Your car is not there.”

Typically, I both hear my intuition and don’t hear it at the same time. On Wednesday night I heard my intuition loud and clear and I knew unequivocally I would not see my car where I parked it earlier that day.

I walked up and down Union Street twice, looking for a car I knew was already gone. I phoned my partner and asked her to pick me up.

Shortly thereafter I learned my car was impounded for excessive parking violations and for failing to renew my registration. After visiting the DMV and the Oakland Parking Violations office I had a dollar amount to attach to my carelessness: $1,686.

It’s a high price to pay for sleepwalking through life.

Here’s the lesson:

While I’d rather not scramble to find nearly seventeen hundred dollars, I am grateful for the mishap because I don’t believe I would have redirected my behavior on my own.

The violation itself is instructive.

If read allegorically, one can see the violation as a failure to move in accordance with the ongoing flow of the universe. All is change and constant movement. Parking is the opposite. Parking is the mundane act of staying put, and in some instances, being stuck. When one receives a ticket for parking, the universe is suggesting that we either stopped in the wrong place (so get going!) or we’ve overstayed our welcome (so get going!).

I was stuck in a way of being that was out of sync with the principles I purport to practice, most importantly, mindfulness.

It would take less than a minute to think about (i.e.: be mindful of) what I was doing. “I am parking the car. Can I park here? When is street sweeping day? Or, alternately, “Street sweeping happens on Thursday on this block. What is today?”

Had I asked myself these questions, I would have avoided 70% of the tickets.

Then, there’s the second register dissociation: grabbing the ticket off my window shield, telling myself I had no money to pay it, and then pretending it would disappear if I ignored it.

To simply collect the violation/message is to disavow the message. I had several warnings; small nudges to wake up. It took the large mishap to really jolt me awake. In Buddhism giving offerings to the döns means to show gratitude for the event that shocks us out of stasis and propels movement. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a blaring alarm clock with a ribbon wrapped around it.

The mishap is a gift when considered in this way. No matter how painful or uncomfortable the mishap is in the moment, it is ultimately a blessing because it helps us get back into the flow of life.


*A dön is a sudden wake-up call. Everything is going smoothly and suddenly something shocking happens.

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