Tag Archives: Slogans of Atisha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment)
< Chapter 48 Chapter 50 >

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48. Unfillable bag of tricks

One of Benny’s friends, George, came from a large family and the oldest of the children was a sister named Aris who lived an hour or so out of the city, not far from where a monthly farmers’ market was held. If he was available, and keen, Benny and maybe some others might occasionally go up there. Aris, through her younger brother, was why they had found out about the farmers’ market, and on the occasions when they were there George would drive himself over to his sister’s place at some stage to visit while the rest explored the food and the bargains, or they might go along as everyone was always welcome.

She had taken up doing pottery classes at a whim years ago, even before her little brother met our Benny at college, with evidence of her successful creations (mugs and a bowl or two) at George’s place, and had kept up her efforts with it since. In fact the industrious Aris grew something of a reputation (by way of her brother’s banter about what she’d been up to whenever he came back from a visit) for trying all sorts of activities, not just crafts and the like, but new food trends, learning another language, elaborate cakes, some leather work, spinning wool, joining a local choir, making ginger beer from a recipe found in an old borrowed book, some woodwork creations, and assorted other ‘projects’ as she called her efforts.

“I had the idea that all these sorts of activities started with the pottery, but I suppose this could have been because impressionable-me back when I’d first met her saw this as a different sort of skill to want to pick up. But then another really different side-project of hers that George mentioned once was when he had his long hair cut short after his first year of college, which was done up at her place by one of her friends. Apparently she kept his cut hair and spun it into a rough sort of yarn and knitted him a beany out of it. We thought that was hilarious — at least he’d have something to wear if he ever went bald. But George said she’d always been more ‘out there’ and tried new things, even back when he was a kid and she was the big sister (I mean, they still are, but I guess he was meaning that the difference seemed a bigger deal back then… I knew what he meant).

“He remembered scrapbooks, sewing dolls clothes (more or less), making bird feeders and hanging them in one of the trees in the front yard, making their own play dough. He said she had a pen pal in New Zealand for a while, and one year she even tried to make easter eggs — and George thought they were great. He remembered this was done by making a hole at each end of a real egg, blowing out the insides and filling the empty shell with melted chocolate. It wouldn’t have been like a normal hollow easter egg, but George thought it was better because that year some of them were solid chocolate, not just a thin shell, even though they were smaller. But he said he remembered thinking the idea was a winner, because it meant more chocolate.”

The invigoration that rubbed off from this energetic older sister, in reputation as well as Benny’s own occasional memories, made a stirring kinetic impression on a lot of the people who encountered the ‘try-anything’ Aris. What Benny didn’t realise out loud, as it were, was that this approach to the world made an unstated impression on him, that a fair proportion of that try-anything view had already soaked in, had got under his skin, and became digested into the way he viewed the options available to deal with whatever comes up in his own encounters. Not that Benny’s view was the result of the influence of just one person of course, but there was a recognisable ring to it, a mirrored correspondence with an enthusiasm he had experience with himself. By now, for example, in a lot of the instances where a conclusion is reached, naturally or otherwise, the direction he finds himself facing is the go-to, shaken-down reaction that has been settled on over many encounters.

In fact, stand back from this string of events and consequences, take a long view, and it might seem that this has been a long road for that Ben Yoskin out there. I’m sure he gives the general impression of being just an everyday person to most of the people he comes across, maybe a little quieter but not always, but I (or we) know that there’s a lot going on under the surface. His taking up of certain viewpoints, or his absorption of them rather, seems to have been conducted over one of the longer gestation periods we’re likely to witness, and it’s not done with yet (then again, as with everything, it’s all relative). And it seemed to me in here, or uncovered to himself when he allowed for an unguarded moment, that all situations provided fair game.

So while the busy Aris and her circle might end up with some cups and vases, a car key or letters rack, a belt or some ginger beer, our boy’s efforts had different results. And rather than reaching each result out of a lesson or other training session like she had, Benny came upon his lessons or even inferences through seemingly inconsequential happenings — although I could have told him that there is nothing inconsequential; it’s all consequential.

His, however, has been training that was not sought-out but rather stumbled-upon (which can be preferred). As such, there was also no picking and choosing, no partiality. And in that way the basket of raw materials for Benny’s projects held the tails side of coins, a wet sparrow, a friend’s breakdown and anguished choice, a pine branch teepee, good old Milo, an egg (and some thrown ones), tedious spreadsheets, a rogue shopping trolley, old peeled off wallpaper and much much more. And the projects (or rather the ramifications of them… improve, apply, ponder and conclude) were still being accumulated. In fact, the spread of experiences was all-inclusive. And his leaning (with prompting) to pervasively include whatever came along was a heartening trait.

 

(Train without bias in all areas)
< Chapter 47 Chapter 49 >

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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)
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