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47. Do and say and think, all together

The next morning, Benny felt like having an egg on toast for breakfast, and as he went about making that happen had a passing momentary thought, or rather it was more of a fleeting mental image — and I’d try to bring him back to it to consider and dissect sometime. It was the egg itself and how it was presented, which became obvious as he broke it into the frying pan — the shell and the white and yolk inside.

The cursory concept that glided across his mind but had no time to gel (which is why I grabbed it) was of those three elements that were each an essential part of the whole, and that the egg wouldn’t be an egg without any of them. Separate the parts, and it becomes something else — like breakfast, or a mess.

That may seem obvious, and it must have also seemed so to Benny although the passing thought was not even really conscious and was, as I said, over in a flash. But the concept that could be worth his coming back to was that there can be some elements in this world that should always be considered together — taken as inseparable, as it were.

To hope for more of those lucid moments he woke up to now and then, which he seemed keen to keep finding, should obviously mean maintaining that approach over thoughts, how these are expressed, and how he presented himself — well, it seemed obvious to me, keeping action, word and thought together. These three as a package would be like Benny’s intact egg. I would bring him back to that thought when the moments presented themselves.

 

(Keep the three inseperable)
< Chapter 46 Chapter 48 >

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46. Antennas up – find it – use it

“I’ve got a bad habit of zoning out, a little, now and then. Not a total blank mouth-open kind of absent-minded losing it, but more just a loss of attention. It amazes me, those people you see sometimes, who are able to have the TV blaring or music going and still be able to read a detailed article or a serious book, or put together a great job application letter. I’ve actually asked people who had that ability how they did it, and from what they said it seemed it was just having the knack of being able to get into a ‘zone’ or into the ‘flow of things’ and focus on whatever they needed to… to sort of make the outside world and its distractions disappear.

“But I can so easily lose sight of things, and it’s annoying too.” How Benny imagined this, which he hasn’t spelled out for you here, is to think of the elements he knows he should be attentive to as being on the other side of a glass tank full of clear water, and therefore in sight and visible, but that this water is easily churned up by his being distracted and disturbed. The annoying part for him is how the disturbances are generally inconsequential too. That’s one way to think of it.

“But I knew that could happen, that I can lose sight of things I’d be better focused on because of stupid diversions, and be blind to something that should really be getting my attention. But you know what it’s like, what with those here-there-ness commotions, the multitasking we’re all meant to be immersed in and instant internet distractions… I’ve really got to pay attention to my paying attention. In fact that rings a bell… something about losing attention, a kid falling off a hand rail at the beach, or about how good it would be to have a default setting that would mean inattention becomes a sort of reminder about attentiveness.

“Having less to remember about staying on track would be a help.”

Listen, there’s probably just three elements Benny really needs to stay focused on, or at least not lose sight of entirely. One is the fact that there’s guidance out there to be had and absorbed in here, that change and development is possible, is do-able, and has and will make a real improvement. He could think of that as keeping his antenna up for inspiration. Then there’s the practicality of the elements he has found — what he can end up with are very real outcomes, usable and evolutionary. He can keep that in mind as an appreciation of results. And then there’s keeping a disciplined approach. Benny has found a way to work with himself in the midst of everyday life, and that’s worth striving to be diligent about.

So that’s what I’ll try to draw his attention to. To not let these focus points fade.

 

(Pay heed that the three never wane)
< Chapter 45 Chapter 47 >

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45. At least three legs to not fall over

It’s true that Benny sometimes wondered if he were a little strange, a tad odd, toying seemingly constantly with all that introspection. But he also thought that it would be a hard thing to determine. Who knew how much internal conversation all the people around us are having? Everyone would have their own ‘principal observer’, but how much or how little this mattered would be uniquely individual. Ben Yoskin, and all those he deals with or comes across, outwardly function as well and as ‘normally’ as everyone else, but what the hell might be going on inside is anyone’s guess. Benny is proof positive himself… just read over some of the things he has already revealed.

To not be lost in that introspection, which as I say he realised could be an odd place from which to ponder, Benny had an idea that what was needed really was another person to bounce these thoughts off, some guidance, maybe from someone else who might know more about it, who had perhaps been there before. That would also be a task in itself (although not impossible, I would have thought). It seemed to him that it would just need an opening up to someone, at some stage, and certainly to someone he could trust implicitly. In the meantime, Benny decided that the first and best thing he could do is to take on the task of reading and studying what he could, on all manner of topics, but always with a focus (or make that a theme) of guidance — and an aim to be a sponge, to absorb as much as he could.

Another cause he found himself taking on was to keep up the enthusiasm he felt for how his mind had been working to get these lucid moments he woke up to now-and-then. Benny was happy to continue to be able to work a few more things out, even the smaller twists and conceptions, because from these came the conclusions he’d landed on, which much of the time amounted to a division of what’s important and what’s rubbish. The conclusions, even the ‘gut-feelings’, that resulted were all worthwhile for us in the long run.

Of course he was lucky to have that luxury, and not have to think about basics like food or being warm or dry and other essentials. There was no real worry about actual ‘survival’ in regard to his physical needs, but certainly there could arise conditions that could be a strain on an emotional level, or socially. In some way, although I knew he could never predict what could eventuate in this regard, Benny also needed to work to support the aim of having his life sit firmly on an established basis; no surprises, if he could help it. But of course, who wouldn’t want that?

 

(Take on the three principle causes)
< Chapter 44 Chapter 46 >

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44. Magic tricks have three parts

“I think I’ve pretty well always known that something has to be fixed — or not fixed, I mean not only that, but more that there’s always room for improvement… it’s all got to do with stopping the deluded crap. The trouble is, it’s so difficult sometimes (or make that most of the time) to know what’s a ridiculous way to deal with a situation and when you’ve been led away from a more realistic approach by being lost in your own imbecile reactions. It’s like losing your temper or getting really worked up over one thing or another. When you’re in the middle of experiencing all that, you tend to get swept up in that stupid moment and think like that’s how things are, it’s just the way it goes for right-then. Later, when you’ve calmed down or levelled out a bit, that moment can look just plain dumb.

“So it’s difficult to see that you could be caught in the current and being swept along, especially while it’s happening. It’s like we all need to find our own circuit breaker to be able to stop it happening, or work out how to train the brain to pick up on the signals.”

Hey, here’s a clue numbskull. Remember number 9 (and ‘Is it a snake, or…?’) when something you thought was, wasn’t? There’s an idea, just one thought; that can be your circuit breaker. If you remember. But that’s difficult too. But then again, that’s why they say practice makes perfect… you need to try and repeat and do it again, to ‘train the brain’ as you say. That’s not going to happen without making an effort — but then, that’s what training’s all about. And why I’m here.

“Even if it’s possible to recognise that you’ve tripped over whatever’s lying in your way — you know, anger, resentment, something to piss you off — the other difficulty is to know how to change lanes then, and get off what’s driving you down the usual sequence of thoughts.”

Now this reminds me of a scene from a silent movie that Benny saw once when he was younger, which I’ll have to remind him about, that was in a documentary about Charlie Chaplin that his parents were watching one evening. In it, Chaplin trips on a kerb while walking along distracted, and doffs his hat to apologise, assuming he’d caught his toe on someone else’s foot and not just a piece of pavement. I remember the younger Benny thought that was funny, even though he didn’t laugh out loud, sitting there with his parents as he was. Anyway, that idea circled close to an answer to his present musings as well — which would be to call out the habitual response by training to have a different response. It wasn’t the same I know, as the tripping-up moment in the movie was more antic than answer, but an obvious part of the joke was a reliance on habit, and that was something that could be underscored here. Just making an effort to change response, even if it’s not always achievable, could waken the idea that all situations, the good, the bad, the boring, the exciting, are temporary states that, because they are driven by specific circumstances, may not have a lasting presence anyway.

“And then there’s the other difficult thing, which is making it stick — it’s no use saying to myself ‘I’m never going to let that happen again’ because it does, naturally. It just seems too easy each time to buy-in to the moment at hand.”

You may have heard the saying ‘if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got’. Benny could do worse than to start with that thought. But another idea to couple with this thought harks back to number 41, with a morning reflection of what lies ahead, and an evening review of how all that went. The aim, hopefully, would be to get some perspective.

 

(Train in the three difficulties)
< Chapter 43 Chapter 45 >

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43. Stop laughing, this is serious

Benny being lost in the hot and cold of reactions reminded us of the very very pivotal importance of his keeping a hold on two qualities (or are they actions?) that had become incalculably crucial — and these are what he needed to be diligently reminded of.

One is to know what should be taken up and adopted, followed, absorbed (therefore also knowing what can be let go). The other is to act on these in the best way known, to make sure these decisions stick. To stay mindful, and aware of it too, was as central as this heartbeat I keep hearing — even more so… perhaps even to the point of its silence.

I guess the quiet whisperings will continue to float up.

 

(Observe these two, even at the risk of your life)
< Chapter 42 Chapter 44 >

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42. It might be that extremes are never helpful

The day started well. When Benny stepped out from his front gate on to the street the first thing he encountered was a $10 note being blown along the footpath, which he deftly stepped on and picked up. “There was no-one else around that it could have escaped from, so naturally its next home was my pocket. And it’s funny, but being in the right spot at the right time kept unfolding for me that day. In the city, people were handing out promotional samples of a new energy drink at different random street corners, and the way I was going found me walking through two of those intersections that morning.”

Without really admitting it, let alone spelling it out in a conscious way at all, from then on Benny more-or-less expected that everything else on that day would go well for him. And generally things did — all that was meant to happen, and even those that were not planned, went very well or even better, and for no discernable reason. And just little things too… like when he later bought a coffee, he had exactly the right amount needed sitting in his pocket, precisely the right change (“…I think this one was when I got my first car”).

No-one could blame him for enjoying a good day, where everything just fell into place. After all, we all have days that are better than others. But the thing was that this time there were no mediating factors, no less-than-premium results or elements to take at least a little bit of shine off Benny’s pristine run of good luck. This might sound fine, but the trouble was that this unspoken positive expectancy seemed to be more firmly cemented-in from each piece of successive serendipity, and that outlook also seemed to be feeding an out-of-ordinary inattention. It was odd… and it was also conducive to complacency. His otherwise clear-mindedness was just switched to ‘off’, which I knew, under my watch, is not helpful. I wished that he would have listened a bit more carefully.

And at other times of course, like everyone, Benny also had bad days. “It was an early start to a cruddy day, my phone ringing at about 5am, and it was just one of those ‘private number’ nuisance calls. It was hard to get back to sleep then, especially when you know you have to get up not all that long after. When I did, one of the first things I saw in the mirror was that a mosquito had bitten me on the eyelid overnight, and as I have a mild reaction to them I had a visible bite mark on my eye all day.

“I should have read the signs and just stayed home, but of course that wasn’t an option, so out I went and straight away found myself being hassled by a bee at my front gate, which I guessed must have been sitting on the gate somewhere that I didn’t see as I opened it. I wasn’t stung at least, not that that was a sign that things were going to improve. I cut across the park and a friendly dog ambled over and got a big pat from me, after which I realised that my hand had picked up a bad smell from the dog’s back… he must have rolled in some very stinky dead thing. Just wiping it with tissues (I had a pack in my bag) didn’t do much, so I felt like I had to keep that smelly hand in a wad of those tissues in my pocket until I got to work and could wash it with lots of soap (which I had to repeat a few times before the smell was completely gone).”

That would have all been fine as far as having a string of bad luck goes, if it ended there. But after drying his hands Benny could see that after all the washing and accompanying splashing of water he had a wet patch on his pants ‘just there’. Immediately after, when Benny took off his coat to hang it up, he saw that a bird had crapped on the back of his shoulder — a very visible long white streak, and he guessed he must have been walking around with it on display all the way in.

But this wasn’t the last of it for Benny. Later, seemingly to remind him that this was not a stellar day, he couldn’t hold back a huge sneeze immediately after taking the first bite of his lunchtime sandwich. Later still, at the end of this day of bad happenings, he decided that he should wash the pants he had on in case some of the pungent dog smell hung around in the pocket that he had shoved his hand in that morning, but he forgot to take out the wad of tissues that was still in the pocket when he put them in with the load of other washing. The result would be a delayed bad-day confirmation.

The trouble was that this string of negatives had a similar affect to his string of good luck that we saw before — his otherwise clear-mindedness was just switched to ‘off’. Benny was just too caught up and worried about what had happened, and what might happen next, to really take a patient view. It was the same in both situations — either too caught up and blissful or too caught up and worried. With the first he indulged, things were going well, and he milked it for what it was worth. With the second he suffered, things were not going so well, and he hunkered down and felt miserable. Either way, good times or bad times, Benny’s focus lapsed (it felt like being in a fog), and it didn’t have to be that way. He just had to take a step back, be patient, and keep his head in a clearer place than where this daily life can take him. I don’t think I could ever tire of reminding him of that.

(Whichever of the two occurs, be patient)
< Chapter 41 Chapter 43 >

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41. Two bookends, to hold each day’s stories together

Some mornings, Benny would slowly wake up and not be sure if the dreaming world had ended or not, even if he hadn’t been dreaming — although he only used those words for the occasional bleary just-woken-up moments because he couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t coming out of a dream of sorts, even if he couldn’t remember it. Mainly the association he’d have with dreams on these occasions was because there’d be a lingering idea on his mind, like something he thought he should remember, before his eyes got a glimpse of the morning light and the daily distractions took over.

True, the lingering resonance he may have picked up on was probably one of my whispers, and those subtle inner signals were certainly meant to be something he should remember, so it seemed Benny was getting the idea. Ideally he should have taken a minute or so, just to dwell a little with whatever was there for him to take into the new day. Just one little reminder, first thing in the morning, could set him up for a better daily outcome — certainly before another one of those ‘to do’ lists starts to form in his mind, which can absorb so much concentration.

The important thing would be perspective. Not to change anything about the day-to-day that comes along each morning, but before driving off into the looming day ahead, to adjust the mirrors, as it were, so that they’re not always reflecting square back into his own face — to just re-set the angle of overview and take in a wider field of vision.

Likewise later on, at the end of one of his days, a whisper may go up, just a tiny secondary intuition that Benny can pick up on as a passing thought, to look over the day just gone and see where his energy was spent. What Benny would hopefully be hearing, subtly, is not to find fault or blame, but just to step back, to review, and see if the morning’s moment of perspective stuck in any way, any small way. Hopefully, at the end of the day, he’d see what reminded him of the wider overview, and what may have caused him to forget.

(Two activities: One at the beginning, one at the end)
< Chapter 40 Chapter 42 >

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40. In the same boat (maybe a different part of it)

It was only days later that Benny had occasion to recall the intention to apply the preferred attitude he’d identified on the day of the wallpapers. But this time it wasn’t in reaction to his being pushed around by any external hassles.

“It’s funny how you can just wake up and find yourself generally in a bit of a grey mood — not depressed or in a full-blown misery really; just a fit of the all-around blahs, or maybe it’s a case of multiple-meh.”

Whatever the cause of such a malaise however (and from the quips, Benny obviously didn’t sound like he was in that bad of a place mentally), the cure was the same. And, it would seem, would be the same as well were the perceived obstacles he faced coming from somewhere out there. The heartening thing was his recognising that bringing himself back from any struggles he might find himself entangled in, or feeling stuck or under pressure, can be approached simply through one intention.

The aspiration I’ll aim to encourage him to adopt should be to make that his underlying bottom-line position. He can get back on focus just from remembering that he has lost focus — in a way, taking on a habit that also doubles as a signal to lighten up, and not take it all so seriously. So even just today’s recollection hit the right note. And as if to underline the proof, the next job on hand was to put away a pile of newly washed and dried clothes — a task our Benny would normally put off for as long as possible, and even after that, tackle reluctantly — “but this isn’t so bad,” he thought, “once you just make a start”.

(Correct all wrongs with one intention)
< Chapter 39 Chapter 41 >

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39. That tea-in-hand attitude

“I was roped in with a group of us to help out a friend and fix up a room, which was part of a bigger house renovation. There was no way of knowing at the time when I wrote it in the calendar, but this home improvement working bee ended up coming at the end of some very busy few days for me — one of those pointless hustley and busy times where everything seems to need to get done all at once.

“Although that’s not all that unusual, is it? Isn’t there seemingly always an endless stream of things to do or things to get done? Some days it just doesn’t seem to stop. But everyone knows hectic times can and do just happen, and it can be the busyness that we don’t necessarily think about too deeply that can fill the day — what with having to top up supplies with one thing or another, getting low on petrol, bills that are close to being overdue, even cleaning the odd thing here and there, dishes, clothes, yourself. And there can be the jobs that weren’t ticked off the list the day before, so they just bunch up into the next day as you try to catch up. It can be tiring. And it can be a headache.

“Anyway, that’s the flustery place I had just come out of when I turned up to help that day, and it was sort of a relief to know that there was just one duty to get on with for a few hours. I was given the job of peeling off layers of old wallpaper to prepare the plaster for patching up, if it needed any, and then painting — no more paper for these walls, was the plan. It was easy to do, and I don’t know if that was because it was an old sort of wallpaper or if it just hadn’t been put on properly. Mostly I just had to mop water all over the wall with a wet sponge and keep it wet for a while, and it wouldn’t take long before the first layer of paper just lifted up with a scraper — or even just my fingers if I kept it really wet for longer.

“I say the first layer, because once that ugly green and brown autumn leaf motif lifted off there was a second layer of another sort of dated patterned wallpaper… and as the wetting and peeling process continued on, it showed that there were more layers to get through, which probably represented years or maybe even decades of repeated wallpapering. Soon there were about five layers exposed, but I guess each could have been up for years at a time.

“I could have dug in a little with the scraper and tried to get to the base layer, wherever that was, so I could get all of the old paper off and have done with it — and that’s just what I would do soon enough. But actually just for then it was intriguing to try to have a peek at the old fashioned wallpaper patterns that were being revealed, one under the other. I wasn’t going to carefully peel away at the whole roomful of old wallpaper, but just this first area, and just to have a look at how people’s ideas of what they thought looked good on a wall had changed over the time this room had been occupied. At the time I started out peeling back the layers carefully, I was sort of hoping to find a really kitsch wallpaper pattern under there… you never knew.”

Benny had the playful thought of finding wallpaper with, say, 1950s style spaceships or maybe cowboys, and that he could have cut a rectangular shape of it to leave stuck on the wall so that, he imagined, an empty picture frame could be hung over it. It was a humorous whimsy, and would have been cute, he thought, if the person who had the room was on board, but he had no such luck with the patterns he found.

“It was a very old house, so it was interesting too to think that over the years there would have been a lot of different people occupying this space, living with these different patterns on their walls, maybe the same wallpaper for a few rotations of occupants, until someone else’s urge to redecorate took hold or a new owner came along and the next layer of wallpaper went up. All those past lives and the living days that went on in this house weren’t something that I would normally think of if this was just a room that someone I knew lived in right now, even if it was a bit rundown and had that ‘lived in’ look. But somehow these layers of wallpaper that were being revealed were more obvious evidence that people existed here, had good times or stressful times and just lived their lives and probably felt ‘at home’ and safe right in this same room.

“I bet they had some hectic busy days too, like I’d just been through, full of ordinary hassles or maybe something more serious, a busy time that just buzzed along for them, keeping up with one thing or another from morning until night. Just ordinary things, but they can take up so much of someone’s time.”

A mug of tea was brought in and the progress he’d made so far admired. Then Benny sat down and had a break, looking at the area of wall he’d been working on and the layers of different wallpapers he’d so far exposed. Sitting there quietly, his train of thought couldn’t help but blend those notions of bustley existence with the evidence laid bare on the wall — that past and unknown people had lived their busy lives and fretted about their own problems, had to go to the shops, ran out of petrol, missed paying a bill… and that now it mattered not one little bit. These old wallpapers had witnessed times that were full of busyness in their own way no doubt, but that was all forgotten now, and could be peeled off and swept up.

Benny would much prefer to keep the frame of mind he sat with now — tea in hand, and helping out a friend — just taking in the moment, rather than with that running-around head he’d been saddled with lately … I knew we could both benefit from that. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt for Benny to remember what had been shown to him in that room today, to remember this the next time he started to get that frantic feeling on future hectic days… and this was that those times that are filled with a never ending string of demands that he has been lost in before needed to be approached with more of a ‘tea in hand, helping a friend’ attitude.

The things we have to do and the obligations we need to face are naturally always there; they’re not going to go away. But if Benny could face all the usual and everyday activity that naturally makes up the day-to-day with that one intention — to take on that attitude — then no matter what came along, it wouldn’t sweep up his attention and mix that up with its own clutter. This could be a worthwhile goal to keep in focus.

(All activities should be done with one intention)
< Chapter 38 Chapter 40 >

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38. There are better ways to feel good about yourself

It was on one of the occasional trips Benny made to his old neighbourhood that he met by chance someone who always seemed to be around when he was growing up (they both went to the same primary and secondary schools) and who Benny hadn’t seen for years. It was pure coincidence that he ran into Gil Sharden like that, seeing as Benny didn’t make his way to that area so much now and Gil had moved interstate a long time ago and was only back for a family event. But he looked much the same as he did way back then, older of course but still recognisable — and still a bit of a dork, thought Benny. It was irritating to hear that from in here, and I thought it was slightly lame of Benny to so easily fall back on an old habit of judging so easily and unfairly.

They got to chatting about this and that, mainly of course about what had passed in the intervening years (and it was funny to hear someone today still call him Benny, not Ben, but that’s how long ago it had been since these two first met). But while they talked, percolating up from some hidden vault, a memory of ours was prodded to wake up and make itself known again.

The details seemed tedious now, but there was a girl involved, a funding shortfall on Gil’s part and an incidental pimple outbreak, but the essential part had to do with some hard luck that came Gil’s way and how that played into Benny’s hand and made his situation better at that particular time, but to Gil’s disadvantage. Benny wouldn’t have admitted this part, but I knew that at that time he was very glad the circumstances played out the way they did, which left him landing on his feet while Gil got the raw deal from it all. The dork and knucklehead label that shadowed Gil in those long-ago days played right into the younger Benny’s ability to so easily overlook that it was someone else’s hard luck that was the only reason for his coming out on top.

Now, all these years later, with the girl and the circumstances forgotten, talking to the grown-up Gil there in front of us — he was a chef now and stood relaxed but assertive — the stirred remembrance could so easily have become an awkwardness, especially given the other triggered memory in here … that Benny had even secretly hoped that something like that would happen. Add the long and positive evolutionary roads each of these people had taken since, and the exploitative nature of that initial hoping and the eventual nothing outcomes, and this had Benny almost feeling an eyes-down embarrassment (figuratively speaking… he didn’t, but felt the urge). The ‘win’ from those days was revealed as limp and flimsy, based as it was on someone else’s loss. Benny would have to take off those blinkers and be wary to watch for when similar circumstances arose. I’d try to make the point too when I could, and perhaps whenever I felt this chest start to puff up it would pay me to check that there wasn’t a ‘Gil Sharden’ moment evident.

(Don’t seek others’ pain as the limbs of your own happiness)
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