Friday, July 25, 2008

Multi-tasking: The Bane of the Moment

I was always so proud of my ability to multi-task, that womanly skill that keeps the baby out of trouble while the soup is being stirred.

But even when my babies were all grown up, I was still trying to do as many things at the same time as I possibly could. I had to learn the hard way to let that pattern go. I was such a whirlwind of activity, I didn’t hear my body’s message that hey, this is just too much!

So I got very sick and had no choice but to give up many of the activities. Each day I had to choose just one activity/experience/outing, because that’s all I had enough energy to do. This forced me to pay more attention to which of these options called to me, something I’d never bothered to question before.

I was finding as I slowed down and started paying attention, that certain experiences gave me energy and others depleted me. And anyway, if I could only do one thing a day, it was going to be something I really wanted!

Eventually I got well again, and while I give credit to doctors, health care regimens, etc., I also recognize that much of my healing came from honoring my body’s request for me to slow down, pay attention, and be fully present for each experience. I learned how to do this by returning to a regular practice of meditation – ironically, the one thing I hadn’t found time for! Probably because you can’t multi-task while meditating.

I can certainly do more than one thing a day now, many years later. But I try to never do more than one thing at a time. I had to make the decision that whatever I’m doing deserves my full attention. Even the most mundane tasks become little rituals of pleasure when I am fully present to experience them.

Multi-tasking, I now see, is a survival of the species kind of skill meant for one specific use: keeping that baby safe. It isn’t meant to be used to power on endlessly, juggling the needs, wishes or demands of clients, employers, co-workers, family and friends. I had misused that innate skill and paid the price. I am guessing that millions of other women around the world are still doing the same, and maybe some men as well.

Through meditation, I am able to be fully present for whatever I am doing. And what a profound difference that has made in the quality of my life! I listen more deeply to people when they are talking to me, instead of formulating my response as they speak. I feel the earth under my feet when I take a walk instead of blurring my experience with making shopping lists in my head, among other things. When I can give each moment it’s full due I am richly rewarded by the gift of presence.

(When I can’t, I try for the gift of compassion towards my wandering mind instead!)

In this technological age, it is easier than ever to find ourselves multi-tasking. Just to see how it would be, you could try a doing only one thing at a time for a while. Don't talk on the phone while you're driving, for example. Don't read or watch TV while you eat. Notice your own multi-tasking habits, and see if giving each activity its due doesn’t make for a greater sense of ease and spaciousness in your life.

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