4. A grip, after an untethering

Benny found a card in the letterbox one day when he got home from work that said there was a package at the post office to be picked up, and the card was left since no-one was home when the mailman tried to deliver the parcel. He knew what it would be, as he’d bought a belt made out of recycled bicycle inner tubes as well as a t-shirt from an online store more than a week ago, and had been expecting a delivery any day. But he was going out that night, and there was no rush, so decided to get the parcel the next day. The newsagency post office opened early and his usual bus stop was right in front of it anyway, so he’d just give himself a few more minutes to pick it up in the morning.

So there we were, after breakfast and in the bright morning, waiting behind someone else at the counter of the post office. “I had a book in my bag but I was also wondering if I should get a newspaper, and found myself sort of staring at the front page of a paper on top of a stack of them, but not really reading the big printed words. ‘Can I help you buddy?….. buddy!’ What? Did he say Benny? No-one’s called me that since I was a kid. I looked ahead, focused… his raised eyebrows said ‘what do you want?’ at me. Got a note about picking up a parcel I told him, and showed the card. ‘Got ID?’. I did, and fished that out as he rummaged in a box… ‘okayyyy, Ben Yoskin… here you go.’ The taped-together postage bag was smaller than I thought it would be.”

It was also stronger than he thought it would be, but after he finally tore an opening in one corner, just to check that what he ordered was inside, it was shoved into his backpack for later appreciation, as the bus was coming. Then the rest of the day began. But Benny somehow found it harder to stay looking out from behind the dreaming-mind attitude he’d been finding helpful. And a good part of the reason, he suspected, was the dazed and distracted mood he’d obviously been lost in, and woken up from, while waiting for his parcel.

It had seemed okay, for a while, to be lost in that haze — to step back behind the mask and let events flow along outside. Settling on a view based on the provisionality of things going on around him seemed so helpful at first, but once Benny started to really come to grips with what this meant, it became only too apparent that this view itself was also part of a conditions-based approach. It was an attitude, really, not an actuality at all.

I can tell you now, and I know Benny wouldn’t clearly recall this, that this was a conclusion not come upon suddenly, but over the course of several separate moments of suspicion. The recognition of his almost colluding willingness to accept a mind construction that should probably not really be relied upon was a cumulative dawning — not a light bulb blinking on above Benny’s head. But it became clear that a functioning identity was needed to move around in this world. I mean, look at that distracted moment in the newsagency. No-one needed to be saddled with that sort of vagueness all day, and engaging with people at arm’s-length, as it were, was not really engaging at all.

Having invested in that mind construction, it was hard for Benny to let it go. But it became obvious that holding on tenaciously, in the face of lengthening cracks in the façade, only underlined the fabricated nature of his antidote. And this was the problem. Not having a fall-back position to rely upon, especially when this is shown up as untenable through the same conceptual process that led to having that fall-back position in the first place, left a dangerous emptiness — an untethering of surety that left him feeling that he didn’t really want to think too deeply about either the constructed answer or his complicit acceptance.

Benny usually read a book on the bus commute to work, so he got out the second-hand paperback he was reading, an old novel that he always thought he should get around to reading one day. On this particular morning there came one of those serendipitous moments when the world provides an answer, or at least a relatable reference, to a current conundrum. This one was a line he read within one minute of sliding a fingernail behind the shopping docket he used as a bookmark, opening the book and remembering where he was up to. ‘It is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary,’ Benny read.

That was it! He could deal with that. Regarding all that went on around him as if it were all happening in a dream could be quite acceptable — as long as he had no compulsion to really believe that this was an alternative reality. There’s an accepted reality, which everyone works around and deals with, and that’s as it should be. If anything, taking a step back inside and regarding everything from his personal hidey-hole underlined the obvious subjectiveness of the accepted world. But doubting the fundamental veracity of his discovered antidote to the pressures of life, his constructed refuge, did not end up, thankfully, dragging Benny into another mistaken conclusion — that nothing mattered, that there was no meaning, that it was all crap anyway. Life did matter. Existence did have meaning. Yes it could all be crap, but that’s okay too. The point was — and this is where the line from his book resonated — it all doesn’t have to be absolute reality, it just has to be acceptably necessary.

“I just stepped back into the world then. I mean I was still sitting there on the bus, but I mean I dropped that distance I’d felt I had to maintain. It was like I just let go of it all, that precious guardedness. I didn’t need a cure or a trick to living and moving around like a real person in this world. Who needs an antidote when really there’s essentially nothing all that toxic around anyway? Just let go, accept it all, everything, and as long as I keep the relativity of things in perspective, it’s all okay.”

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Chapter index and link to slogans