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.

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