I read the results of a big survey recently,
asking people about how they multi-task, and why they do
it. As you might guess, the main reason people said they
do more than one thing at once is because of the pressures
of time—there is SO much to do, and SO little time!
They spoke of “time speeding up” and “time
flying by.” I confess I have used that language in
the past myself, although I am not sure what it means.
Some of the things the people said they
did to multi-task were a bit scary: The read the paper,
watched a DVD, ate breakfast, applied make-up, and/or changed
their baby’s diapers while they were driving. Other
choices were a bit more benign, such as always reading while
they were eating, and listening to instructional audios
while walking in nature.
If time is speeding up, and we have more
to do that ever before, it seems to make sense to double
up and try to do more things in less time. We drive faster,
talk faster, eat faster and faster food, and sleep less.
And we multi-task. Maybe.
I would like to suggest that the idea
of multi-tasking is a myth, and the antithesis of living
a well-lived life. Have you ever actually tried to direct
your attention to two or more places at once? It is impossible.
“You can only serve one master.” Your attention
can only be directed to one person, event, object, or task
at a time. In so-called multi-tasking, what you are doing
is directing your attention back and forth from one place
to another, sometimes so rapidly that you are not aware
there is a disconnect in the process.
Let’s say you are a mother, and
you are out for a walk. You are getting exercise plus perhaps
pushing your baby in a stroller, and talking on your cell
phone. You are not doing three things at once; you are moving
your attention back and forth between three things very
rapidly. Your attention is actually being fragmented by
An American swami used to tell his students:
“If you are going to eat, eat. If you are going to
read, read. But don’t eat and read!” One day
a group of students found him sitting eating and reading.
The said, “But Swami, you told us to eat or read!”
He looked up from his breakfast and said: “If you
are going to eat and read, eat and read!”
Most of us do not have that ability, and
perhaps the Swami did not either. Next time you think you
are doing two or more things at once, stop and see. Aren’t
you actually doing two or three things back and forth, back
and forth, back and forth? And if that is the true nature
of multi-tasking, where is your attention NOT? I would suggest
that your attention is not in the moment, in the Now of
the Eternal Present.
I would also like to suggest that a life
well lived is a life lived in constant communion with the
Present Moment. The only way to live that life is to train
your attention to be focused on the feelings, sensations,
and surroundings of your human body in the moment. How does
the air feel? How does your relationship with that baby
feel? What does your body feel like, walking? Do you see
the clouds, and the hundreds of green colors in those trees?
Are you aware of the phase of the moon tonight? Does the
intense awe of creation wash through your feeling body with
such intensity you can hardly contain it? That is the joy
of Life. That is Dancing in Joy With Life. The Joydancer.
Perhaps time is not speeding up. Perhaps
is it us, speeding through life, running to reach some elusive
goal of completion and success. We have to get it all done,
we have to do more, be more, better, faster, more, more,
more. There is no end to that race, and when you get tired
of running it, you may discover you missed the scenery,
awe, and juice of Life along the way. I encourage you to
not let that happen.
Life is happening right now. Where
is your attention?