Tag Archives: Slogans of Atisha

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 >

 

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 >