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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 >

 

22. Inattention the best reminder for attentiveness

It just so happened that the question of how he could stay engaged and in focus more often was running through Benny’s head as he drove along one hot day. There was a high school on the main road opposite the shopping centre that Benny occasionally made his way to, and because the day was very sunny and hot he decided to park under a shady tree next to the school yard (there was hardly any shade in the shopping centre car park). It was at the end of the school year, and walking up to a pedestrian crossing, which was also next to a bus shelter, he came across a knot of students grouped just inside the school fence who apparently thought throwing eggs was a good way to mark their last day — they had a few egg cartons at their feet and glanced around, obviously planning an assault. Benny picked up the pace and kept his eye on proceedings in case the egg throwing started and one made it over the fence.

By the time he got to within dashing distance of the bus shelter, another group of what looked like senior students ambled into the view of the egg team, and the throwing began. A few hit their targets and of course a lot of yelling started, but one victim actually caught the egg that was thrown at him and threw it back. It was a nimble action and a surprising skill, which seemed amazingly spontaneous, and took not only the attackers by surprise but also the catcher’s own group. Focusing on the next catch, Benny saw that it involved this kid tracking the egg as it flew towards him and cupping it with his hands mid flight while also swinging them back along the same path. The action wasn’t so much stopping the flying egg but getting hold of it and keeping its momentum before slowing it down quickly. The others tried, and after a few eggy hands some of them got the hang of it. It was quite impressive.

For all the amazing catching skills displayed, the point that was emphasised for Benny was how a disadvantage could be turned around — which seemed to him even more impressive as this was also achieved through some agile re-purposing of the momentum of the thrown egg. He was reminded of seeing someone miss their footing slightly while jogging up some steps in a park, and quickly regain their balance without losing pace. There seemed to be a knack when losing your balance in such a situation to be able to use that action to help regain it. He was reminded, in a related way, of how a cat can lose its step and fall but use the falling to land upright again.

Benny would try the egg catching trick if he could find someone who would agree to give it some practice, but the internal lesson he would take away from the present and remembered incidents focused more on how a re-emphasis can turn a negative into a positive. It seemed that losing focus can be just the right thing to remind you to get back that focus — if you just make that your default position — so that, in a way, inattention can become the best reminder for attentiveness. Benny suspected that the ideal outcome would be to be able to have a distraction operate as an underline, rather than a blurring, for his engagement — so that the very moment he notices he has lost attention is also the moment he regains it.

 

 

(If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained)
< Chapter 21 Chapter 23 >

 

21. At least there’s progress, I’ll give you that

That Benny is right of course. And he’s right to feel good about having that honest voice going on. I was sure he didn’t pay attention all the time, so it’s also good that he realises this. It shows progress.

There’s a lot to be cheerful about actually, and one of the foremost reasons is that progress. It feels like Benny is getting closer, and coming to the realisation that there is a definite point to all this. He had come to see that everything has potential to add to the mix, even seemingly negative situations — sort of like that girl who tripped and fell at the roadside, or the runaway shopping trolley, or even the spoon-in-the-sink soaking. At least some conclusion of sorts could be gleaned out of these situations, or even just provide something to add to the table.

At least something was being achieved, and Benny felt that this aspect at least should be viewed as something he could be happy about — that he had some hope of maintaining an engaged attitude no matter what. And this little bit of sunshine was, in fact, something I knew could become a permanent happier attitude.

 

 

(Always maintain only a joyful mind)
< Chapter 20 Chapter 22 >

 

20. An explainer from an awkward molar

“There’s something I became convinced of ages ago, even when I was still living at home, and it was that while there’s the ‘yourself’ who’s parading around that everyone else sees and gets to know, there’s also the ‘yourself’ that isn’t so obvious, but who’s always present and you don’t really get away from all your life, not even for a minute. It’s sort of like there’s the public ‘you’ and the private ‘you’, one of those ‘same same but different’ scenarios, like it’s the same flavour but a variation to it.

“I was thinking about how to tell the difference, I mean if I had to explain what the difference is to someone. I mean, we’re just ourselves so what’s to explain, you’d think. But like I said, I became convinced that there is something to explain, about these two observers to this life. Getting down to the real issue at stake here might be like trying to describe the difference between ‘nuanced’ and ‘subtly different’, maybe trying to explain that to someone who doesn’t speak English very well.

“Then again maybe one way to get somewhere near describing the flavour variation that I’m talking about is like when I brush my teeth — which sounds strange, but I’ll explain. To anyone else it would be obvious that I’m brushing my teeth and that after doing that they would be cleaned and feel fresh all over. But I know that in behind one of the molars on the left side, the upper molar on the left, there’s a part of that tooth that’s really hard to get to, or at least the action needed with the toothbrush to get behind there is a little more involved than just brushing around like with the rest of my teeth. Maybe I’m just imagining it, but I’m sold on the idea that to really get to it I need to do some convolutions with my mouth and cheek, and sneer up the top lip on that side. It’s not pretty,” (it’s hilarious) “and it’s not something I’d do if anyone were watching. But it’s something that I know myself, if I want to get to that difficult place on the inner base of my upper left molar, I tend to have to pull some faces. Well, maybe I don’t have to, but that’s the thought I have, and the actions I take, if I want to convince myself that that area has really been given a proper brushing. Anyway, that’s a part of the difference.

“So there’s the me that people see and know, and then there’s the me that’s just mine, the one that feels the need to pull a face sometimes. And only I know that information, just me… I mean just the private me. And I know that this principal observer is the one I can trust, most of all, to be absolutely truthful. There’s no bullshit in here, there’s no denying or making excuses. There’s no-one to impress. So the first self of these is the one that I know will reliably have the right opinion and give the most truthful assessment of everything I do and think.

“And it’s not so much of a self-centred thing, more a self-honest acknowledgement, because there’s no posing going on… no posturing or ‘character’ to live up to. And I think it’s good to have that reliability — even if I don’t always listen.”

 

 

(Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one)
< Chapter 19 Chapter 21 >

 

19. An authenticity of outcomes

At times, there seemed to Benny’s mind that there was no steady progress, or at least no way to measure any personal changes. Not that this mattered a great deal to Benny most of the time, but now and then he wondered about the point or direction all this prognostication was taking him — which, were he asked, he would say was a curse, but I knew he didn’t really think it was all a bad thing. In fact, if there was one thing that Benny and his private thinkings were convinced of — yes, okay, I know, guilty as charged — it was that there were far more negatives to stumble over from not thinking things through and not keeping focused.

What had become obvious was that an authenticity of outcomes was never accompanied (never channelled) by the self-importance that so many others brought to their own game. In the easy space of unguarded moments, Benny would find an open truth — that taking himself too seriously, and clinging to that conceit, can be a one-way ticket to getting tangled up on his own two smug feet.

The main focus for all the efforts along the way was to keep those feet on the ground, not get too uppity, not get too convinced that there was anything special going on, or anything that wasn’t also in the ambit of every other person walking around. All the thoughts and realisations and even the occasional ‘yeah!’ moments he’d been through and collected and filed away could probably be distilled down to one main point … drop the bullshit.

It was like that steaming cup of tea in the sunlight, that pretentious confection that this would ‘look better’ to someone else. He was glad to have realised some of the ridiculousness that ego and self-aggrandisement can allow. And glad that he had the occasional unguarded moment to be reminded. He needed more of those.

 

 

(All dharma agrees at one point)
< Chapter 18 Chapter 20 >

 

18. Above the din of doings

During one bus ride to the city, an ambulance raced by with its siren going, and the following thoughts ran through Benny’s head. “I read somewhere about how one of the significant stress factors for people who attend emergency or crisis situations, like anyone in an ambulance or fire fighters, what the Americans called ‘first responders’, who arrive at maybe a big disaster (I’m sure I read this on a US site), was mobile phones — or rather the ringing that can come from phones that are in the pockets of the dead or dying, or even coming from body bags later on.

“Like after a major accident or emergency incident, where there might be a lot of victims lying around, the sound of mobile phones ringing apparently can really get to the people who are there trying to help. The sound just makes a bad situation harder, and it’s not just all ringtones and bleeps, but maybe worse can be the favourite songs, the cheery riffs and the personalised alert sounds — they’d seem so incongruous to the horrible moment when these sounds are playing. But of course it must also be the thought that the ringing is probably from friends or family trying to call the people lying there, trying to check up and see if they’re okay, when they’re not okay at all.

“The emergency people in that situation said how this sound made the victims seem so much more human and frail, more close and familiar because they have people who are trying to call them, who are worried about them, who will miss them.

“I think I can understand the feeling they’re getting at — that we’d all be like that if it were us.”

Coincidentally, or maybe it wasn’t because of that ambulance going by, Benny was running these thoughts through his mind not long after finding out that an old teacher of his from his time at college had died some time over the past year. They had always got along well — he was one of those teachers who would put in time with his students, and always seemed ready for a chat or a serious discussion, if someone wanted to follow up on either the matter at hand in the course or whatever else they wanted to talk about. He had always seemed so genuinely interested, and they had many deep-and-meaningful talks — at least that’s how Benny remembered it — about nonsense or about the details of life or a few other obscure issues.

One that had resonance for Benny, and stayed with him in subtle ways, was about how everyone can benefit from being more disciplined in their thought process, about the steps a person could take to make sure their brain was in gear and that there was some kind of back-up for thinking clearly. That long and involved discussion from years ago really started Benny on the way to coming to the conclusions he eventually reached about those five back-up steps to staying focused and on-track. These were quietly percolating away in the background for a long time, and never really articulated until very recently — and only really to me in here.

So when the news of his old teacher dying of throat cancer finally reached him, Benny of course felt bad about it, but also felt bad because he hadn’t heard about it until now, and this was only through someone from the same course who he rarely caught up with. It was just another example of life getting in between then and now, and Benny could not have changed anything along the way, and wouldn’t really have wanted to. Time just passed, things just happened. There was a reason, but like a lot of us Benny could not have fathomed why he would have remembered reading about those emergency workers and the awful distraction of mobile phone ringtones that became an until then misread provocation — that was also a gift. Another tiny bit of gravel in the shoe. It seemed to me in here that ‘time just passed, things just happened’ left a ringing echo that intruded on his moment, just when he was trying to process the news of his old teacher.

He hoped, and he felt he could assume, that between then and now the life of his confidante from those immersive times back then had been filled with the sort of mindful engagement he remembered them discussing so well, and that lingered in the memory, from all that time ago. That was a person who had always seemed to conduct himself in a thoughtful way, and that was important. Right now it seemed that much of the other ‘from-then-to-now’ noise was just that — and Benny had begun to see that people can be all too attached to it, can use the noise and buzz of all the general doings and goings-on to underline an identity, to personalise their own living ringtone. But all it took was a straightforward, undeniable actuality to juxtapose that din of doings with the now-obvious frailty that was left exposed. Benny hoped, and he felt he could assume, that a strong thoughtfulness stayed.

 

 

(At death, how you conduct yourself is important)
< Chapter 17 Chapter 19 >

 

17. Better pull out the stops

“If I sat down and thought about the achievements I’ve made, and I don’t mean educational qualifications or the kind of car I drive or anything, but the sort of qualities that you’d hope good friends would talk about if they were making a speech about you, I’d like to think they’d say I’ve built up a few of my own personal strengths over time, or maybe they’re just ‘positives’. Or that’s what I’d like to hear anyway.” (Sorry mate, can’t help you with that.) “Maybe no-one else sees it, but I think I’ve built up a sort of bank of reserve battery power that kicks in when there’s a bit of slack, or when I really need it — although you know probably everyone’s got that back-up power lurking somewhere. Not for the day-to-day doings so much as those other times, when there are decisions or efforts that have to be made about things that really matter. It’s a bit hard to explain, and even though I know what I mean, it’s not something that I’ve tried to put into words before.

“Like being pretty determined, when I want to be. Most days I can just drift along with the rest of us, doing whatever comes along and just getting through the day. But sometimes it just seems to require a more focused effort, and at those times I can choose a course and stick to it. And I don’t just mean for the same day or hour, although it could be a short burst if that’s all it takes. But if I’ve decided for instance that I really need to, say, learn to use the computer mouse with my left hand instead of my right because the right hand keeps getting tingly, then that’s what I’ll do, and keep at it until I get it right. That’s not the sort of change I mean though. Of course the better examples of the determination I’m talking about are those times when the goal is deeper than a physical habit — it’s the changes you make under the skin that really matter.

“Then there’s being able to adapt and become really familiar with these sorts of achievements. If you make an improvement, the last thing anyone wants to see happen is going back to the original less-than-optimal situation that could have been so annoying before, or at least annoying enough to make me want to make a change. After making an effort over and over again, where you get to isn’t somewhere you should retreat from. One of these positives I think is being able to become comfortable with that, so there’s no longer the feeling of any change being a big deal. Of course that also comes with having some sense of determination, when it matters. It goes with the territory.

“Another thing I’ve noticed is that probably most of the times when I have seen a noticeable improvement in personal approach, especially through adopting a viewpoint or attitude, is arrived at because there has always been an inkling somewhere inside, like a seed that’s been dormant, that this was where I should have been heading anyway.” (And who tickles them inklings, Benny boy?) “It’s interesting because that’s never an effort — when I realise a more helpful approach has been stirred, it’s like a puzzle just unravels and falls away, and it all just naturally makes sense — maybe more so because these improvements seem to have the nature of being more ‘true to form’, and not imposed.

“Another positive, and it could seem strange to nominate this as a positive, but it is, is an easy access to self-criticism — or you could call it reproach, maybe auto-censorship. Most of the time this comes about because I’ll have lost sight of those first three developments, and lost track of what’s been achieved already. The aim is to get back to the straight and narrow, not to wander, to tell myself off for slipping back to the assumption that there’s not much I can improve on. The point is, it’s no use pretending everything’s hunky-dory when there’s so much that can be improved, and no-one’s going to get any closer to that by dropping the ball right now. So cut it out. Get back to it.” (Hey, did you just mumble that last bit out loud?)

“And that leads right to another positive that can be viewed as part-and-parcel of this five-part back-up reserve battery pack. This one is more about having some sort of inspiration, or maybe it’s aspiration, an aim. It’s okay to have determination, get into whatever that’s about, like it was always second nature, and keep focused, but overall there’s got to be a goal worth chasing. And I’m not nominating any nitty-gritty focal points here, which is also kind of the point. Yeah, aspire to a better outcome, but not just regarding specific items. There’s an overall ‘one-size-fits-all’ here. When you condense right down to the pithy middle, all of the above is applicable in whatever situation you find yourself.” You know what? That’s inspired too.

 

 

(Practice the five strengths, the condensed heart instructions)
< Chapter 16 Chapter 18 >

 

16. It might be shit, but you can also call it manure

There was a tablespoon lying in the sink of the kitchen at the office where Benny was waiting for a job interview, although he couldn’t have known that as he sat there waiting to be called. He found out that it was there after he asked the person at the front desk if he had time to duck out to buy a bottle of water. It seemed to be a nicely casual workplace, as she said there was no need to go buy some if he didn’t mind water from their tap, and raised an arm in the direction of the open door to the office kitchen to one side, and said there were clean glasses in the cupboard above the sink. She said there probably wasn’t time to go out anyway as he’d be called in very soon.

That seemed a fine option, so he went in and grabbed a glass. Benny had a habit however of letting a tap run just a bit before taking any water, but when he turned on the tap it was a stronger flow than he was used to, and the tablespoon was, as we know, lying there in the middle of the sink.

The stream of water hit the bowl of the spoon full-on and sent a spray of water up and out of the sink. It splashed all over the front of his shirt, soaking most of it, and making him take that classic ‘I’ve just been wet’ stance — hips back, shoulders forward, arms up and out, as if this would somehow help un-wet him. It was a disaster, and had to happen just then, just there.

His initial thought was how to escape. He really didn’t want to ruin his chances just from a stupid incident that wet the whole front of his shirt. But he was trapped. There was no way out of there without going through the reception area again. It was an unforeseen thing that no-one would have expected, and he couldn’t really be prepared for — like he wasn’t going to carry a spare shirt, just in case…

There was nothing to be done. He simply had to deal with circumstances. So Benny stood there a while, shut his eyes, took a big breath, and accepted the facts. ‘Okay, so you’ve got a wet shirt… so what?’, and I whispered a reminder of the runaway shopping trolley, of our Uncle Ted, that seemingly negative things happening don’t always have to mean a disaster. ‘Take it easy, go with the flow, see what happens.’

Coming out of the kitchen, Benny heard his name called and he strode straight in — wet shirt and all. In the end, that unconventional dampness wasn’t so much of an issue. In fact his whole spoon-in-the-sink thing turned into an ice-breaker, and he walked out quite happy with the outcome. Yes, it was an unexpected incident that morning, and gave all the signs of putting him at a disadvantage. But he rode out the situation, took his chances, and was able to coerce the potential disaster into something better. He even got that job, in the end, which we found out later.

So that morning took Benny’s outlook from mildly hopeful, to exasperatingly negative, and then to a more positive acceptance — after he decided to take a viewpoint that rose above mere circumstances.

Walking home from the bus stop could be done via a strip of parkland, which made the walk slightly longer, or the more direct route along the main road and then into Benny’s street. His shirt was dry by now, and after his job interview that morning and its outcome, Benny took the greener way.

It was a long swathe of park in the wider urban space, which he just passed through most of the time, usually going somewhere else. But this time a shoelace came undone — maybe because they were shoes he usually didn’t wear much. So Benny sat down on a park bench to do it up. It was a quiet and mild sunny day, so he actually just sat there for a minute or two after the shoe was tied again, just looking out on the green space, a row of trees at its far edge. Then, looking up, he saw in a tree what seemed at first to be a stub of a branch that had broken off, but that he then saw was a bird sitting there. “An owl of some kind… yeah, a mopoke.” It was so well camouflaged that it was hard to make out, at first glance, but he could plainly see the owl that it was when he stared a while. The bird hardly moved, but quietly perched there, just sitting, looking out at the same scene Benny had just been resting his eyes on. He reached into his pocket for his phone to take a picture, but could tell it would be hard to see much of anything, and didn’t bother. Actually, why not just take the incident for what it was…. just enjoy that.

He did. And sat there for a minute or so longer before going on his way. It was a nice moment, and he found that when crossing the park in the future he would find himself glancing up at the same tree … but the mopoke wasn’t there again from then on.

Before the incidents of that morning, Benny would be more likely to, for example, panic about that wet shirt and scheme how to extract himself from having to deal with the embarrassment. And in the park it would have been more his style, or his until-then style, to put a foot on the bench, do up the shoelace and get along to wherever he was going.

What became crystal clear, eventually, was that the momentum of habit (or you could call it the generally accepted outlook) was not always, or maybe was not ever, the most helpful way of dealing with anything. Of course unthinkingly taking options more likely to be labelled ‘reliable’ probably has something to do with a tendency most people defer to — wanting to operate within familiar reference points. It was not just that this was a safe way of dealing, like a default setting we’re all wired for, but also a huge part of that tendency seems to spring from an innate wanting to belong to the human species.

So, sure. There were these programmed responses, or that toolkit of accepted versions. This was acceptable, most of the time, but even Benny could see that it obviously also paid to keep an open mind. Change and unsettling things are a given; they’re always going to happen, no matter how hard he tried to operate along ‘safe’ guidelines. For me, this witness to his trials, it was good to know that when the left field came at him, Benny at least could take a breath, draw on a little experience, and join these moments with an openness. Okay, so shit happens, but it doesn’t have to add to the chaos, and shit can be repurposed as manure, as fertiliser, to grow that sense of accommodating sanity.

 

 

(Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation)
< Chapter 15 Chapter 17 >

 

15. Note to self

The fact that some people stood so close to the edge of the platform as a train arrived had been a source of concern for Benny before. But it was up to the person standing there, after all — and it wasn’t so much that he thought anything could happen (although it could, in one of those worst case scenarios) but more the incongruity of the obliviousness a lot of train travellers invariably seemed to be immersed in while standing so close to that dangerous speeding mass of metal.

But in the underground stations, where you couldn’t see the train coming until the last minute, as it was hidden in the tunnel, Benny had noticed a subtly different behaviour in most people. A slight breeze started to come out of the tunnel as a train approached, which built slightly as it came closer, and Benny supposed it was the train pushing the air along ahead of it. Just a palpable waft of air at first, and then everyone knew and could make a decision or let their bodies make a decision, about whether to move or not, if they weren’t distracted. Some moved away a little from the edge, even if only slightly, or they might take half a step back, or even just lean back a little, to ease themselves away from the coming train.

One time when the breeze started, one distracted fellow traveller was a mother talking on her phone standing next to her young kid in his pusher as the train rushed into the underground station. Benny was on the other side of the pusher from her, but just next to it, and as the train hurtled out of the tunnel and ran alongside the platform he subtly pivoted his foot outward to put his shoe in front of the pusher’s wheel so that it couldn’t accidently roll forward. After the train stopped he straightened his shoe up. It was just done as a quiet cautious act, even though it was probably not needed, but no-one saw and nothing was acknowledged, except by us two in here. Which was just as well. I knew Benny harboured a hint of wondering if that seemed to be a ‘normal’ action, but I had no doubts. Looking out for others, even through a small twist of the foot, is a calm and sane way to conduct yourself — it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.

Actually, that was another thing — worrying about what other people might think all the time (well, maybe not all the time, but certainly on too many occasions). Benny had, or used to have, that annoying tendency. Thankfully he came to a realisation that those concerns could be taken too far, and he was thankful that coming to some clarity in this regard was done on his own time — and not through an embarrassing exposure.

The moment of his coming to a decision to stop the crap was a simple one, and involved a freshly made cup of tea. He would sometimes have the thought, he realised, if conditions were right, to try to place the hot tea in any sunlight coming into the room, so the slight wisp of steam rising from the cup would be caught in the light. That way (and he found himself actually thinking this) it would look better to someone who mattered if they happened to come into the room.

When I whispered this back to him, Benny could have kicked himself. What a dumb way of thinking, he thought … what a ponce … and found he was really frustrated with himself for even entertaining such a feeble viewpoint. He made a determination to steer clear of these sorts of confections of self whenever he had enough clarity of mind to know they were happening.

Which brings us to another of Benny’s realisations. In a way, he recognised that he wouldn’t have woken up to his steaming tea foible had he not had those pretentious imaginings in the first place. It was of course better to have such moments of clearer thinking on his own terms, and Benny formed a view that he should have more idiot thoughts so that he could have the chance to see them for what they were. He didn’t need a lot of urging to also recognise that these moments of clarity should preferably be experienced in the privacy of his own space, and just by us. If he needed shaking out of his own concocted complacency, then bring on the neurotic mind games and be grateful — because they had the potential to help me wake him up.

But of course there would also be the need for Benny to be able to recognise, clearly, the footprint that idiosyncrasies left. Okay … so he needed me in here too. He knew that. And he knew he should listen a little more attentively.

 

 

(Four practices are the best of methods)
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