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32. Unpalatable cold dish

“You remember that I mentioned my Uncle Ted from a long time back? He was one of the better people to be in our lives back then. Well I had other older relatives of course, back when I was younger, and one on my mum’s side, my grandma’s younger sister, came down our way for a visit occasionally. Great aunt Esme was okay most of the time, but she had an occasional habit, or I suppose it was more of an irregular obsession, of raking over some bad incident from years or decades ago, sometimes from a time that seemed historical to me, where she’d been wronged somehow. It could be anything, maybe something a sister did (or maybe didn’t do), but she could sure hang on to a grudge, given that it could be an insult or something else that happened so long ago.

“Old Esme could be a bit of a whinger, and I remember my parents talking about that sometimes after one of her visits — and she made the occasional visit probably until my early 20s. I remember having the impression in later times that she must have been very good at hanging on to an insult, or whatever it was that irked her from the past. It seemed like it was the result of solid practice… in the way that everyone seems to be able to improve a skill by practicing it. Great aunt Esme had mulled over how she had been wronged so often that she had really become an expert at it, very proficient — dwelling on what hurt her feelings in the past made her get very good at dwelling on what hurt her feelings in the past.

“But later, when I looked back and thought about this part of her personality, all she was doing back then was keeping a negative feeling alive by feeding it through constant remembering. And in her case she could be still ticked off by something that went awry, in her mind, way back in time. And this was the more surprising thing about it all. It wasn’t that anyone thought an old lady, or a younger person as she would have been, could not be hurt by someone or some event… but those insults or grievances tend to fade over time, don’t they, or they’re meant to… unless they’re given regular resuscitation and are turned into solid-gold grudges.

“And that these grudges were kept alive for so long, in her case, meant that if there was someone she could have sorted it all out with, they would more than likely not be around any longer to be able to talk to. I remember mum said something like this, as one of the favourite gripes her aunt had was about a wedding and someone not being invited, or something like that… anyway, the point was that Esme had survived most of her generation, and now had no-one around who might have known the details to have it out with.

“It’s funny and sad that we can do that. We can hang on to a hurt, waiting I suppose for the chance to right that wrong. Or probably hoping we’d get an opportunity to get back at the person who was to blame. I can’t imagine waiting for years to do that, thinking all the time, even occasionally, that there’ll eventually be some vindication or ‘win’. Or thinking there’ll be a chance to spring one of those ‘ah hah, I knew it!’ justification moments on whoever wronged you somehow in the past, like you were waiting to ambush them with it. That just seemed useless to me now that I think about it.”

Yes, Benny nailed it. How much this would stay with him was yet to be proven, but for now this was the conclusion he’d drawn from relevancies and intuitions around him — that forgiveness isn’t letting the other person off the hook, it’s letting your own person off the hook, so that you’re able to be free of the grudge and walk around a little lighter in your step. Simply, let the hurt go.

(Don’t wait in ambush)
< Chapter 31 Chapter 33 >

 

31. Do you really need that prop?

I’ll tell you about a little fact that has become obvious in here, and that’s how Benny frequently seems to pick up on tiny inner secondary intuitions, however vaguely resonant these may be with what he’ll be dealing with outwardly. And if this is the case he’ll either openly run with them as his own inspirations or put them aside as his own passing thought to come back to later. One case in point was the aggravating co-worker mentioned above.

It would have been easy for Benny to react to this guy, and have something to say about his grating ways or in answer to the attitude. That would have been Benny’s fall-to reaction were it not for a certain ‘undercurrent’ feeling he had that it was better to not do that. And I’m glad he picked up on this. Putting someone down or otherwise maligning them, even if they had kicked-off the bout of aggressiveness, rarely goes towards having any influence on seeing the negativity disappear — and I think he realised this, along with the other side to the same coin… that much of the time, if someone gossips about or disparages someone else it is done so that the critic, that is themselves, can be imagined in a better light.

His knack of picking up on the subtle inner signals had also become a little more reliable lately, which can only be a good thing.

(Don’t malign others)
< Chapter 30 Chapter 32 >

 

30. Declining to be swept along

“I was window shopping online, just having a look around at the time of year when the temperature outside was getting cooler, so I was cruising some sites for something to put a warmer layer between me and the weather when I came across a sort of orangey-dark tan showerproof jacket, which was nicely longer than usual. They called the colour ‘tobacco’. Anyway, I clicked the ‘add to cart’ button so I could go back to it if I wanted, and then moved on to cruising around again. But it wasn’t long before I had second thoughts (it wasn’t that much of a bargain) so I shut the computer and dropped the idea for now.

“Later when I went back to check up on something else, I noticed that a new window was opened behind the main one — like a pop-up ad, but I’ve heard these called ‘pop-under’ — asking if I’d like to continue and ‘complete your purchase’. That kind of annoyed me, as I’d more or less moved on from the idea by then, and obviously the clothing website had this sort of reminder tool built in for people just like me — shown some interest but hadn’t followed up. I know I shouldn’t have been annoyed… I mean they wanted to make a sale and this pop-under reminder to go ahead and spend the money was just part of that. I think the annoyance came more from being lumped in with everyone else who didn’t buy their stuff, and that their view seemed to be that people were so programmed and predictable that this would be all it took to seal the deal.

“And it made me wonder just how programmed we all are, and how consistent are people’s reactions… do we really keep doing the same thing under the same circumstances, time and again? I mean it’s okay to have some consistency, in the way that can be viewed as making you ‘reliable’, but there’s got to be room to at least consider that there’s an alternative, rather than just to keep repeating what’s been done before. Maybe that’s how dumb predictability comes about, and this just makes manipulation easier.

“It reminded me of that famous experiment with little kids, where they were given a marshmallow or chocolate or something and left in a room and were told that they could eat it now, and that would be that, but if they didn’t eat it straight away and waited until the guy came back into the room they’d be given another one. As was probably expected, a lot of them ate it as soon as the door closed, but some didn’t. And I think the conclusion from follow-up studies was that the kids who could delay the reward so they got a better deal later grew up to have better outcomes.

“Anyway, my point is that there’s probably nothing to lose from interrupting our usual way of latching on to a viewpoint, and to at least make space for not-so-automatic reactions. Taking a different approach can work, and I’ve seen it before. Even taking a different way to get home from the bus stop can open another sort of experience that wouldn’t have happened with the tried and usual — like the time I saw that owl in the park. I remember there was a time when I tried threading my belt the other way — you know, starting from the right side belt loop instead of the left — because I’d read the idea in a book or somewhere that this sort of action can help take your thinking away from the boring usual. It sounds like a really minor thing, but the truth is just this little re-adjustment can wake you up a little bit more, like maybe in the dull-minded mornings, but anytime really… if you remember to do it.”

Benny had forgotten about a time when he had ‘changed lanes’, as far as an expected reaction would be concerned, while working a summer job when he was a student. It was an early sign of having a basic intuition about what he was just now ambling through. That time it concerned someone else at the workplace who was just giving him a hard time, being very critical and outwardly antagonistic. But Benny didn’t take the bait. He just kept his cool and took an even-handed approach. He knew, in a vague and subtle sort of way (yes), that it was a temporary situation — but it wasn’t just that, or that he couldn’t be bothered. That time rather, Benny’s reaction was one instigated through his taking a contrary attitude to what would have been expected under those circumstances. He stopped, stepped back a little, and just declined to get swept along.

(Don’t be so predictable)
< Chapter 29 Chapter 31 >

 

29. There’s such a thing as too many berries

Here’s a joke that Benny was told one night: ‘How can you tell if someone is vegan? They’ll TELL you’. He laughed with the person who told the joke, not in a loud way, but he did recognise the personality foible that made the humour. He had come across people like that of course, who made a point of letting others know how good they were. He also knew people who genuinely followed the vegan diet, and weren’t pushy or obvious about it, but of course that wasn’t what any chortle-worthiness hinged upon in this case. It had more to do with the way some people make an effort to wear a perceived specialness on their sleeve, or absorb an otherwise genuine action for their own puffed up sense of prominence. There were many examples out there.

But that joke was also a timely reminder for us — I had found Benny toying with a vague notion that the discoveries he’d made, those long-view ruminations settled upon when a mood to mull things over took hold, were not receiving the recognition they could have. It seemed to me to be a notion that was brushed not just with a hint of ownership, but a half-peeled eye for how these could be exploited — his home-grown punnet of puffberries. And it wouldn’t do to see the fruits of his mindful labours be turned toxic.

Thankfully it was a brief and flitting flash in Benny’s thinking periphery, and thankfully also he seemed to pick up on the concern — even though this must have seemed a very vague intuition for him, like my finger wagging at him from behind a door. But then again, from who else would he pick up on such signals, if not from me…

 

(Abandon poisonous food)
< Chapter 28 Chapter 30 >

 

28. On the top of a fence

“A lot of people will have heard the Greek myth about Pandora’s box, and how all the evils of the world were locked away in it until Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened the lid to have a peak inside. I didn’t really know much of the details until I looked the story up, but when I did there was an extra bit of information that I hadn’t realised was in the story. I suppose I only remembered the sanitised story-time version of the Pandora myth.

“So the part we probably all know is that after she lifted the lid all the bad and rotten things that humankind was meant to be spared from flew out and into the world and started doing their evil best — you know, disease, hunger, hatred, cruelty, all the things people would have been better without. It seems that Pandora then quickly slammed the lid shut, trying to stop the evils escaping, although it was mostly too late. But there was one thing that couldn’t get out before the lid closed again, and that was hope — I hadn’t heard about something staying in the box before then, although it must have got out somehow if it’s around now. I suppose the point about this detail being in the story is that no matter how bad the world gets, now that all the evils of the world have been let loose, people will at least still have hope.

“But for me, the big question was why hope would have been locked away with the world’s evil elements in the first place. That was a surprise — I think a lot of us would think that hope is a positive thing, not something to be thrown in with all the crummy evil things. It seemed to be a funny twist in logic, that hope was assigned by those ancient mythology makers as being something that humans would be better off without. But is it possible they maybe had a point? Is there something about hope, or maybe that ‘over the rainbow’ type of wishing, that’s not helpful?”

So said Benny to himself. It occurred to him, expressed in his own words, that having a hope that something or other will change or happen or develop implies that the way things are now isn’t how the person who has that hope wants them to be. Clinging to a hope that ‘one day’ things will be better, in that ‘over the rainbow’ way, as he put it, that wishes for a better outcome just underlines that the status quo is no good. What he could have asked was why fixate on future possibles when the present do-ables are still needing attention?

So while the saying goes ‘there’s always room for improvement’, the point is that wishing things were different comes from a conviction that things as they stand are not as good as they could be, and that there is ‘disappointment’ in the present. Just in a physical sense, for example, to give some relative perspective, as long as there’s a motivation to improve something — to change your body shape, have more hair, get a smaller nose, have darker or fairer skin or whatever — the yearning for these changes is motivated by the same viewpoint that made any condition a problem in the first place.

But then again, Benny shouldn’t take this too negatively. It’s not that one should have a conviction that there’s anything really wrong with having hope. Benny himself had been constantly trying to get towards some form of clarity — and he could describe that effort as a hope to have some result from his efforts. It’s not about abandoning that, but more about challenging motivations. The urge to make a change a lot of the time comes from a place that not only assumes there’s something not quite right to begin with, but that clings to an empty conviction that you are ‘owed’ being better than that. If you get a misguided motivation into the picture, then there’s that longing for something better, for something, usually in the future, that will be an improvement on where we’re at now.

So there are these aspects to the problem; assuming that what we’ve got is somehow lacking, plus being convinced that ‘of course’ you’ll come out on top. But another aspect is that where there is a holding on to a hope for improvement of some kind, there tends to also be a fear that this won’t happen. So this can be like walking along the top of a fence, hoping to stay on top but having the fear that you’re going to fall off at any step. But anyway, this crossing his fingers to be better, to be ‘special’ (that is, more special than the next person) is a trap that I’d rather Benny did not fall into. I guess my job of keeping a watch out isn’t done yet.

(Abandon any hope of fruition)
< Chapter 27 Chapter 29 >

 

27. Those special weak spots

Our boy had a cracker of a dream one night, one that was right out there, but of course was right in here too, and I must admit to giving a little push but not that much. Not that it’s always a safe thing to give much weight to what a dream might or might not mean, although some are more obvious than others, and for the outside observer they can be an amusing guide to what’s going on. Anyway, this one had Benny running a small hotel or guesthouse. He was the owner but was also the cleaner and cook and general all-round dogsbody. But this bespoke hotel was also the inside of Benny’s head — I mean physically, not just as in his imagination. But as with these types of weird dreams, what would otherwise be understood as being a small space had plenty of room for all the people and furniture and everything else.

It may seem contrived and fairly obvious to the wakeful reader, but in Benny’s fantasy the hotel guests that came and went were identifiably thoughts and emotions (identifiable in that ‘accepted truth’ way that dreams can have). But his dream was a handy way to look at the goings on in Benny’s mind actually, and kudos to him (okay, with a little poke) for landing on that idea to weave together for himself such a story. And it was an appropriate concept too, because hotel guests are temporary — they just rent a room, and have no ownership of it or any part of the hotel. They take up some space for a while, but then leave to make room for the next visitor. Check in, check out. Some come with more baggage than others, some need more help carrying things, or demand more room service. Others are quiet and you’d hardly know they were there.

But still, it was just some scenes in a story, and there’s really no need to go into what these random emotion- or thought-guests got up to in detail, suffice to say that, as guesthouse visitors do, there were comings and goings, some were good guests who left rooms tidy and clean, but some were terrible and walked over the carpets with muddy feet, made a mess and left wet towels on the floor or even stole them.

As we know, it can be hard to get to the point when you’re the dreamer, as Benny was, coming out of these dream fogs, but the point that coalesced from this came about in the part of the story where Benny had to clean up the rooms before any other guests could occupy them. He felt strongly compelled to clean up the messier rooms first, the ones where the more disturbed emotion guests or troubled thought guests had been staying (they left papers all over the floor, the mints squashed into the pillows, and didn’t flush).

You may have already unpicked this tapestry and splayed out this reverie’s threads, but the practical application that was taking a slow osmosis-like path to Benny’s wakeful mind was the idea that the more troubling and negative impulses are the ones that need his focus first. The greatest problems, the skewed emotions or grating thoughts that Benny has most trouble with keeping in control, had to be his priority. These special weak spots, and we know they’re there, would otherwise just work to hold back progress. And I think Benny realised this.

(Work with the greatest defilements first)
< Chapter 26 Chapter 28 >

 

26. How to win a handrail race

Benny was not unaware that he could have been accused of doing more than his share of mulling over a lot of things — and by some standards, too many things. But that’s also likely to be the impression I’m giving through sharing all this information with you, because on the outside there was the very usual and general sort of living going on, just the casual everyday things that happen to all people.

In here it was obvious that some long-view ruminations were bubbling away, and Benny was aware of it and knew he was doing this, but also that while he may have focused on some other person’s shortcomings, he shouldn’t really because he had some of his own. And yet the reason for the mis-focus is an understandable one, and issued from the same control panel that housed his mulling switch.

Benny felt, without really putting the feeling into words, that since he had been through so much internal change himself, and had worked through a lot of issues in his own way, it sometimes seemed fair to assume that others may have similar results or made at least some kind of progress, drawn some kinds of conclusions. But this feeling also simultaneously revealed, and this also seemed obvious when he realised his un-verbalised expectations, that this is generally never the case. Necessarily, peoples’ ‘schedules’ are their own, and most of the time do not align compared to his own, or to anyone’s. Given this fact, it seemed useless to ponder others and their achievements or otherwise. If anything, it could be an off-putting distraction.

A memory surfaced that could be used to illustrate the sort of dynamics of this, were Benny a bit more engaged with these musings, which he wasn’t today. Seemingly out of nowhere (yeah right) he remembered two kids mucking about at a surf beach one day who were having a competition of sorts, walking balanced on the square wooden handrails of a length of steps that went from a carpark down the sand-hilled foreshore to the beach, and seeing who could a/ stay on their rail and b/ get there first. Benny remembered that at about the halfway point, one kid, who happened to be in front at that stage, looked around at his competitor to see what he was up to. Checking out the other kid just made him lose his balance and he fell off (but wasn’t hurt). The rival stayed focused and kept going, concentrating all the way, and made it to the end. The obvious point was not to worry about what anyone else was doing but just get on with your own balancing act.

 

 

(Don’t ponder others)
< Chapter 25 Chapter 27 >

 

25. Don’t point; you might have a dirty fingernail

It’s an interesting upshot when a conclusion can be drawn that is both right and wrong — or in the case of Benny’s ambling reflections, right but with an aspect that is shown to be in need of a re-visit when the overall circumstances are teased out a bit.

Mr Pants, as he put it, had an issue — and it was a sticky one, that Benny himself also admitted to being in danger of stepping into. In order for a contrast in approaches to be illustrated by example, the foible of another person’s egoistic mannerisms was probably useful — just to underline the sort of thing that could be avoided. But the example in itself is not necessarily helpful — certainly not to the person concerned, and also not to anyone making that observation about the perceived defect.

It’s hard to deny that a consequence of speaking out about someone else’s less-than-perfect ways is an unspoken assumption on the part of the speaker to being better than that. Making comments and judgements about someone else naturally infers that the critic thinks they know more, and this was the case — and the danger — with Benny’s example. Building oneself up through talking about another’s defects is generally an empty exercise; and I’ve seen it before. The fact is, most or probably all people have something that needs fixing, or at the very least that needs improving. Just as Benny came to realise that it can be the more difficult people he has to deal with in his life who he should probably be most grateful towards, because they provide material to work with and to learn from, so too could he view the examples of defective humans that incidentally came his way.

So there’s a give-and-take aspect operating, which is an appropriate way of stating the dynamics here. Give, take. Sending out, receiving back. There’s got to be some allowance made for all the shortcomings of people out there, because Benny is out there too. If he didn’t have defects, he wouldn’t be absorbing, now and then, the observations and the lessons that flow over his life — and there’d be no need for me to catch some of that and make it stick. So while it may take constant reminding, Benny I felt would eventually see that there’s not much at all helpful about pointing out other people’s defects — he had plenty of his own to keep him occupied.

 

 

(Don’t talk about injured limbs)
< Chapter 24 Chapter 26 >

 

24. Spot-on doesn’t need a spotlight

“I once did yoga quite regularly, and I suppose a lot of us have, and a lot of us still do. For about a year or so I looked on it as being a great way to keep limber, and it came with an implied bonus of getting a grip on that restless headspace that we probably all get sometimes — or the implied thing was at least a nod towards options to explore in that regard, which became more obvious later on, but I know that it’s not something that works for everyone.

“There was one really annoying guy I remember who seemed to have three or four different pairs of those baggy yoga pants, and regularly varied which one he wore to the classes. Not that there’s anything really wrong with that I suppose, but it all just seemed too selectively done. And then there were the ‘yoga’ t-shirts, and then I noticed the beads on his wrist, but it was more than these trappings. There was just something of an empty showiness to this guy, and he seemed to latch too readily on to outside embellishments. I mean, who says ‘namaste’ to everyone? Although maybe I’m being unfair — he could do all the poses as well as anyone. But really no better than anyone. And that’s part of the point I’m getting to I guess… that behaviour, speech, dress, all the overt particulars are not really where anyone’s priority needs to sit.

“If anything, the sort of thought wanderings I’ve been taking, and the destinations, could have so easily led me to have that kind of attitude — to wear what I’ve come across on my sleeve, and take up some kind of posturing. But something told me that’d be a mistake” () “and that making any sort of a big deal about having a few moments of clarity would be like flashy yoga pants.

“I suppose wanting to get any kind of attention is the default setting we come with, that we’re all set to being ‘me’ focused. But I’m convinced it’s one that can be turned around. Again, it’s the view or the attitude that seems to make a difference, not the actual physical action involved. But I’ve seen that before — attitude affects everything.

“Ages ago there was this guy who asked for any little bit of money I could give him to get some food. I remember being distrustful at first, but there was a lot going on in my mind at that moment. I coincidentally had a spare 50c in my pocket at the time, and right then it was an uncomfortable coin. My relenting and letting go, my putting this other person’s need ahead of whatever I thought my needs were, ‘worked’. Thinking about someone other than myself made a big difference. And this was just because of a turning over of the usual attitude that we probably all take, that ‘me first, others next’ response. But that can change, with just that re-focus I was talking about. But making a big and obvious deal over something like that will just put you in Mr Pants territory. Not helpful, and not the end you’d want. The best outcome, for all of us, seems to be to change our attitude but remain natural about it. So yeah, people can aim for whatever sort of internal amazingness they want, but externally nothing needs to change.”

 

 

(Change your attitude, but remain natural)
< Chapter 23 Chapter 25 >

 

23. Have you noticed things come in threes?

Life, generally, must be an engaging experience — of course. Quite apart from the fact that while we’re here we can’t help but be involved, the experience of having a life is naturally a fascinating actuality. It must be. People seem to be so wrapped up in their lives and captivated by what’s going on — and yes, that might seem like an obvious conclusion. But it’s not like there are always grand adventures or the stuff of storytelling — this existence is usually not made up of the kind of happenings that has come to be expected from a TV screen or what you read. But there is still obviously a fascination, and it does not really depend on there being exploits or headline moments or the interweaving of personal contingencies.

The adventure, as I think Benny has found out, can be how the ordinary is dealt with. And how even the quite ordinary can turn into a story to tell, depending on the turn of events. On this, he thought of the time when the cat got into the rubbish bin and ate a piece of string that had been used to tie up a roast. This fact only became evident the next day when she was seen in the backyard, squatting while doing a kind of hesitating crab walk, trying to poo something out and obviously not having much success at it.

Benny went to see what the problem was, and that’s when the string was revealed as the constipation culprit. A couple of centimetres of it were protruding from the cat, and was the obvious cause of her awkward rear-end manouvring.

Benny felt that he couldn’t leave the poor thing like that and went to get some pliers, wondering if he might be able to help a little. She let him steady her between his left hand and leg and he managed to grab the end of the string with the pliers, but as he gave a tender tug she must have felt the pull and made a break for it. The problem was that Benny still held on with the pliers. In the end the zipped-out length of string was only around half a metre long, but thinking of the probable ‘rope burn’ that would have happened down there made him clench his own backside for quite a while after. Later on it became a good story to tell.

So yes things can just happen, but they are usually not just an empty string of nothing events with nothing relevant between them. Really there is nothing inconsequential; it’s all consequential. It all has ramifications, and meanings, and is personally involving. But how people deal with the ordinary, or the side stories that can spring out of the ordinary, can make it all simultaneously extraordinary; and that’s also a part of the fascination, and meshes with the conclusion Benny had come to — that dealing with a situation, usual or otherwise, can either be superficially done or attended to with some thoughtfulness.

And this is the viewpoint for which I can be a help, this other or principal observer. For the moment, any such guidance would rest in the realm of ‘inklings’, and ‘second guesses’ and ‘gut feelings’ — like Benny finding at times an insight that comes to his mind much like a ripple that starts in here. It’s a focus that’s always running in the background, to keep this mind engaged with his on-going efforts to improve, apply, ponder and conclude.

I remember from last time that there are three basic principles that are better kept in play — or at least within reach. First there’s a need to stick with it, and to get to the point where Benny is able to switch on a tenacity to keep that focus. It can be easy for him to identify or colour this promise to maintain commitment with the ‘I should do some exercise this week’ or ‘I’ve got to cut back on sugar’ sort of self-reprimand. But this basic principle is bigger than these, even though it may seem easier to honour because it’s internal and doesn’t take any physical effort. But there is still effort, just a different kind, and it’s still easy for him to drift off course, which is why his keeping these ideals on the front burner is necessary.

Another basic for him to keep in mind may seem a strange one, but believe me it’s important, and central in view of that previous effort, to keep on keeping on. And this is to not get too smug about himself. In particular, not to lean towards any kind of pretentiousness or show-off or make a point of letting everyone know in some way that he is making efforts based on thoughtfulness. This would be acting on an intention to garner some sort of praise, even if done silently or sneakily (because the motive — to draw attention to himself — would still be there), and that’s dangerous and unnecessary.

And lastly there’s the basic principle of just being patient about it all. Nothing of this sort is going to magically kick-in and be an everyday reality, just like that. Somehow, like a lot of people, Benny would find himself (maybe only I saw this) secretly hoping that the cartoon gag of a light bulb switching on above someone’s head could be a real thing. Well, no, as much as that would be a powerful motivator, the comic contrivance is not going to be there. Staying steady and straightforward, and willing to come back to steadiness and straightforwardness if he loses traction, will pay off in the end. It’s not some short-term game.

 

 

(Always abide by the three basic principles)
< Chapter 22 Chapter 24 >