49. It’s the irksome parts that need early attention

“I must have been about 10 years old or maybe younger when my parents let me ‘camp out’ in a tent in the back yard. I know that I liked the idea of outdoorsy type things, and I guess that probably some soldiery-like adventure ideas were thrown in with whatever I was thinking, but I suppose it was also the idea of bush survival skills, even though I mustn’t have had a clue. But the thought of ‘roughing it’ was appealing enough to get this younger me wanting to try sleeping in a small tent in the big outdoors of our back garden. I’m sure I never owned a tent back then, but my Dad had a small one rolled up at the back of a shelf in the garage (and now that I think about it, I never really asked him where this came from).

“I don’t really remember if it was a warm or cold night, but as I was going to try to tough it out I just had a sleeping bag and that’s it — even used my rolled up pants and jumper as a pillow. I tried to make our dog Milo stay with me, which he was happy to until I tried to go to sleep. I suppose he must have thought I’d gone all boring, and also he didn’t even have a blanket to lie on, so he wanted to get out of the tent. I remember undoing the zipper just enough to let him out and watching him go to his comfortable kennel with his bed in it.”

Benny’s night in the tent passed without major incidents, and he slept eventually, lying there on the hard ground, feeling a little colder than he would have in his own bed. Naturally some toss and turn adjustments preceded any serious resting time, but with one rolling over manoeuvre he lifted his middle to bring the sleeping bag with him and came down a little to one side and a little abruptly, landing on a rock that must have been hiding in the grass under the thin tent floor, and banged his hip. It hurt, although not that much, but added to the discomfort.

But in Benny’s young mind the uncomfortableness also seemed to him like he was getting closer to the real experience, that the hard ground, the cold, made his back yard adventure more like the real thing, and he thought that now he was finally getting closer to really roughing it. So he stuck with it and went through the whole night, and felt bolder for having done so. And with the bruise he would develop on his hip, he’d also have a ‘battle scar’ to prove it. Yes it was uncomfortable, but that seemed to be part of the deal.

It’s a small and fairly innocuous example, I know. But Benny, at an early age, experienced what it was like to not avoid the uncomfortable things that arise, to not instinctively shrink away from what he’d probably rather not deal with, but move toward these, to lean into them. He even felt, or could we say sought, some affirmation from attaining that minor level of hardship in his pursuit of the roughing-it experience (he wouldn’t have put it that way, but I knew where he was going). The easier option was always there, to edge away from the more difficult things, but then he would not have found a way to experience what he wanted to experience, or at least get closer to it.

Of course these internal conclusions would only start to gel many years after that small tent was rolled up and put back on the shelf, but a glimmer of remembrance was helped along by another moment of irritation (although by now this was also many years ago).

“There was a friend of some friends who used to really drive me nuts at times. Anytime I was around this girl I would find myself having to take a few deep breaths and focus on something else to try to not feel a sort of resentment that she was there. I don’t know what it was, but almost everything she said could turn into something irritating if I didn’t stay on top of my reactions. I’m sure if a picture of a group of us together ended up on a body language expert’s desk, they’d pick me out as leaning away from her or avoiding eye contact. For a time it had me puzzled why they found it okay to hang around with her, as obviously she was just a really annoying person.”

Except, she wasn’t — and Benny’s other mutual friends who didn’t find her annoying were an obvious clue that any resentment he felt was an internally-generated reaction from him. She was just the trigger. In the intervening times since, it has been the case that Benny has come to know a little more about being patient with people, and about using negative viewpoints to build positive responses, but at this time and with this person concerned he found that he was just closing down — when he should have been opening up. And I’m sure had he sat with this phenomenon for a while and really stepped back and considered it studiously, which would have been my suggestion had he turned this way, it may have become clear that the factors that provoked resentment could have been more aligned with her displaying traits that were more mirror-like than what he imagined — it wasn’t just that unlikely case of someone simply being ‘annoying’.

I can tell you that Benny himself has been viewed as having insecurities, some self-doubt, and displaying a virtual neediness sometimes — especially back then. It could be uncomfortable for him to be shown characteristics that might seem familiar, but coming from another person, and having to deal with someone like that, but here is where Benny should really have dug a little deeper before reacting. Sometimes uncomfortableness is part of the deal.

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