Lessons From A Car Park

This valley is at times like an empty desert with its silence. Around the middle of the day, the only summer sounds are the insects. Birds are resting in the heat of the day, though as usual they start the day off and will return by mid-afternoon.

Last night we were watching the antics of a few different types of birds staking out territories and hassling each other. I commented that even birds seem to have egos at times. It seems that way, though I’d prefer to put it down to mothering and protective instincts to give them the benefit of the doubt.

For us humans though, life is a constant lesson of dissolving the ego and cultivating the heart. A prime opportunity to grow in this department was given to me the other day in a car park.

After a wonderful but very brief overnight trip to Sydney, I was heading home tired but happy. Stopping at the fruit market, I cruised on in, chose a parking space and proceeded to reverse into it. I drive a van, which is cumbersome. (But it also has a bed in the back….which is freedom!) Having learnt to drive on a tractor at age seven though, I consider myself a pretty good and patient driver.

There were a couple of people walking about, who I saw. But as I had my blinker on and was in the driving part of the car park, I reversed in. Next thing I knew I was being abused by one of these pedestrians for almost running her daughter over. Receiving anger out of nowhere took me by surprise, as she then stormed off still yelling abuse at me. The daughter was actually a teenager pushing a shopping trolley, old enough to possess her own common sense. It is not the same as seeing a toddler running wild in a car park, where of course you would stop, even if they were walking in your way.

Once parked, I hopped out of the van and was about to head into the market, when I thought something along the lines of ‘No, this isn’t on’. Although in my humanness, I’m not so sure my thoughts were quite so polite. It is easy to excuse other’s behaviour through compassion and this is the path I usually try to choose. But there are times too, when compassion and kindness for yourself have to rule.

So I walked over fairly calmly to the lady’s car. Her husband was there and puffed up in defense the moment he saw I was coming. Sadly, the teenage girl did the same, a product of her angry parents. I asked the lady, calmly, what else I could have done? When she pointed out that I was heading into one car space but changed my mind, I was happy to tell her honestly that I had never intended for the park in front and mentioned I had my blinker on and reverse lights.

“So let’s just put it down to a misunderstanding, shall we?” I suggested, rather than fight her anger with unkindness or more anger. She was so full of rage over such a small incident that she just screamed some obscenity in reply, then said, “Yes let’s”, all the while showing me her very best scowling face.

And while my heart was beating like crazy by the time I walked away, I was glad to have addressed it. An elderly couple nearby had seen it all and as I was walking into the market, the old man told me I had handled it well and that the angry woman was in the wrong. This offered some comfort, though it then reinforced how much we can use validation from others to justify our actions – just as her validation from her husband justified her own.

Nearby, a guy about my own age was sitting in his ute (his pick-up to non-Aussie readers). He also commented along similar lines, with understanding and respect. I said thank you, smiled and headed into the shop. While grabbing a few things, I wanted very much to think compassionately about the three of them, mother, daughter and father. But my ego was still a little fired up, thinking ‘How dare they?’

Within about ten minutes though, I was driving home along a beautiful country road and a rush of compassion for them all came through me. I felt sad for the teenage girl who had already become such a product of her parents. Then I thought of the woman in sisterhood and felt sorry for her, from one woman to another. Obviously she was having a bad day, but I sensed she was probably also having a bad life. The man did what any father and husband would do, puff up in protection of those he loved. But his own anger was also evident.

The image of them driving off, all wound up in anger came to me. I had already managed to remove myself from most of the angry people in my life over the years. My earlier life had exposed me to enough of it to last more than ten lifetimes. So it wasn’t like I was new to anger.

Now driving past rivers and creeks, beautiful mountains on either side, I thought about these people. They were so connected to each other in their patterns of anger and I wondered what their lives must be like. How could I not feel sorry for them? My heart went out to them and their misery. But I was also peaceful knowing that I had treated myself kindly by not taking it on, by speaking up for myself. Compassion doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat to others. We owe ourselves love above all else.

I guess I could have said nothing and developed compassion for them regardless. That would have been a noble act, totally devoid of ego if done with the right intention. But I am still human too. And I found that the whole incident was actually a lesson in self-love for me more than a lesson in compassion, though of course it was that too.

Had I responded to her in anger, then I would have ended up taking her poison on too. But by managing to stay calm and speaking in the manner I did, a totally different outcome came about.

Car parks in summer are never the most joyous places to be anyway. Fuses run short in the heat and busyness. It is the same case anywhere retail near Christmas really. People lose patience in crowds and are under even more financial pressure than usual. But if we are able to dissolve the ego a little, even if not completely, it saves adding any more fuel to the fire at this busy time.

That evening I was able to sleep well, after a lovely night of sunset from the verandah, guitars and singing, then frogs and stars coming out in abundance. The car park felt like a lifetime behind me. Yet I wonder now, as I remember the incident, whether the not-so-happy family also slept well. Or did they use each other’s anger to further justify their right, carrying the memory much longer than necessary?

On this occasion, and on plenty of others in your own life I am sure, there was a fine line between dissolving the ego, by coming from a place of compassion, to also treating oneself with love.

Dissolving the ego and cultivating the heart is an ongoing lesson for everyone, layer after layer. And will no doubt continue to be. But the further along I get, the more natural this becomes as negative reactions thankfully weaken and disappear. And while it obviously benefits everyone, even the angry person, if we are compassionate towards each other, the biggest rewards as always are left with the giver of compassion him or herself.

So during this busy time, I wish you egos that don’t rule too much. But may you also remember that you too deserve your own love and compassion. And if this sometimes means speaking up, so be it.

The car park incident left me with peace and self-love. It left the other people with anger.

I know which I would prefer.