I’m doing a bit of commuting at the moment, it’s fine as part of a short term situation but as time goes on, its’ pitfalls are beginning to make themselves known to me. I’m 5’10 and most of that is leg; I’m not designed to spend long periods of time in a Toyota Yaris. So anytime I don’t have to drive, I jump at the opportunity to get the train- the luxury! Air conditioning! Plug sockets! Goes nowhere near the M50! Park up at the train station, pay for parking via an app, two or three clicks, boom. Put the feet up (unless you’re told to take them down, then you wait and put them up again), headphones on, get a bit of work done, maybe- more time to watch crap online later- and arrive at Heuston in a state of total bliss. Get a Butler’s coffee, enjoy your free chocolate, yum.
I thought I had this totally sussed. I was just too clever, it was only a matter of time before a Clodagh-ism occurred. Complacency is my nemesis. I’m extremely scatty; if I seem at all organised or put together, it is as a direct result of conscious, concerted effort. Long story short, I got on the train, promptly fell asleep and forgot all about paying for my parking. Yep… The worst part? I remembered at about 4pm that I had forgotten to pay for it, but at that point I figured if I was going to be clamped it had probably already happened. What is this logic?! Why didn’t I care at the time? Who knows. I forgot about it again until I was getting off the train, I took out my car keys and crept up to the car, as if maybe if I snuck up on it the clamp wouldn’t be there. I made a big wide circle towards it rather than going in a straight line, I felt like if I had enough distance to approach it from maybe I would be ok if/when I saw it. My stomach dropped when I saw that obscene flash of yellow. I had expected it but I was also really hoping I’d get away with it. For a few minutes I just stood there; this was very inconvenient, I had gotten an early train on purpose because I needed to get to the chemist at home before it closed. I was shattered, I needed someone else to take care of this for me. I needed sympathy, I needed someone to tell me the traffic warden was a shithead and a big meanie and totally in the wrong for clamping me when it was a mistake and I usually always pay. When I took out my phone to send a Snapchat/WhatsApp/text/Facebook message/tweet, I saw that my battery was dangerously low. I didn’t even want to take the plastic-covered ticket of the windscreen, I didn’t want to touch it or have anything to do with it! Plus it was wet, I could see the droplets all over it and knew they would just run all over my already cold hands. I knew I was being irrational, I had to just put on my big-girl pants and deal with this. It took a long time to get connected to someone from the clamping company and by the time I did I was panicking big time about the phone battery. I assumed that they would send someone out to take the clamp off and I would be sent a bill. This was naïve and incorrect; not only would they not take cash when they arrived, I had to pay over the phone by card. I wasn’t even sure how much money was in my current account, I absolutely did not want to put it on my card. I tried everything I could think of to try and get the clamp removed without handing over my card details but it was impossible. At one point I even asked the man on the phone what I should do, was I supposed to live beside my car in the rain until I would do a card payment?
I was so flustered and so overwhelmed, I couldn’t remove myself from the situation to take a view with more perspective. In hindsight I thought to use a credit card, but at the time I was too wrapped up in this forced change in my plans to think of that. I was convinced the card was going to be rejected and when it wasn’t the relief caused me to start balling crying- not quiet tears; big, ugly, gulping, tears, snot dripping down across my open mouth and an angry, red face. It wasn’t my finest moment. The phone battery died and I plonked myself down on the wet ground, back up against my wet car like a toddler having a tantrum. I don’t often cry and if I do it’s usually one or two tears, this was a bit extreme.
I was told it could take up to an hour for the van to arrive to remove the clamp, so after a minute or two more of hysterical crying I was getting a bit tired and I realised that I had two options; having already paid the fine and dealt with the consequences, I could continue crying until the van arrived, maintaining my anxious, upset state; or, I could bring my focus to my breath, slow it down, ground myself, and wait calmly for the clamp to be removed so I could drive home. There wasn’t anything more I could do, the situation was completely out of my hands.
I closed my eyes, felt the damp ground through my leggings, and decided to focus on the physical sensation of it as opposed to the emotion I had attached to it. Instead of focusing on the frustration and annoyance, I focused on wet; cold; hard; bumpy; stony. I rubbed my hands on the stones and felt the earth under my palms, I told myself that I wasn’t going anywhere, the ground had me. I couldn’t fall any further, I was safe here. I breathed deep down into my tummy, stretching out my ribs, rolling my shoulders back, shaking off the tightness of the anxiety in my chest. I focused on breathing in and out, the sense of rising and falling, of expansion and contraction. Having originally turned to my phone to seek validation from other people, I began to validate myself. Yes, it was silly to forget to pay your parking, but you were tired and everyone in the world makes mistakes. No, you’re not stupid. Yes, you could have paid by the app at four o’clock, never mind, it’s a lesson learned. No, you aren’t useless. Yes, you could have been calmer on the phone. No, you’re not a drama queen, you just reacted before you thought. It’s only through validation that we are able to make peace with a situation and move on from it. Children look for it from their parents, teachers, older siblings, people they look up to, to tell them what’s right and wrong. As adults, we have to be able to do that for ourselves. We have to trust in our own judgement and stand in our own power, knowing that our reactions to emotional situations do not define who we are. Reacting emotionally to a provoking situation doesn’t make us bad people; perhaps it doesn’t serve us as well as pragmatism and practical thinking sometime could, but being emotional is part of our human condition. As adults, we need to learn to step back, to observe a situation and find the grey area between thinking something is wholly right or wholly wrong. It was only when I was without my phone that I realised how much I depended on it as an outlet, how much I craved the validation of others to make me feel better. Thinking about this since, I’ve been trying to ask myself, is it because it is faster? Easier? In this instant age, is it another form of instant gratification to share your problem with the world and be told it doesn’t matter, that you’re awesome anyway? Or is it that I think validating myself is worth less than having the validation of others? Probably a little bit of both.
These are the moments where a mindfulness practise shows its strength. It’s easy to practise when we are in a quiet room with lighted incense and gentle music. Observing our thoughts and feelings in this scenario is very doable. Focusing on our breath is easy when there is little else to focus on. Practising mindfulness in this way is a powerful tool in our everyday life, but it’s also preparation for the real-life moments that take place outside of that comfort zone. Like the trainee lifeguard practising CPR on a dummy; it’s not the same as being faced with a real life scenario, with the sensory and emotional overload and everything else that comes with it, but, they have practised, they have trained for this, regardless of the situation the steps are the same.
Being clamped sucks. Paying a fine sucks. Sitting in the rain sucks. But it’s grand. We all make mistakes, we fall, we get back up, and we fall again. We are all only human and we all only get each moment once. The present moment is all we have, it’s the only moment that ever exists, and in that it’s perfect. There’s no right or wrong, just learning and growth. It’s ok to have a tantrum, but be aware that you’re having a tantrum and once you’ve had your moment, let it go, come back to your centre. Come back to being grounded and rooted, feel your connection to the earth, know you are solid, know that you are worthy, know that you are powerful and you are not going to be beaten today.
I don’t know what the odds are (feel free to comment) but it’s genetically extraordinary that you are here. It’s also extraordinary that you are who you are now, that every single experience, every interaction, every relationship, and every decision, happened exactly as it did and built this you that you are now. Badass, in fairness. And you don’t need anyone else to validate it.