Mindfulness and multitasking aren’t necessarily in opposition to each other. But when you are in a relationship, make time for single-tasking too.
This morning I made a decision to eat mindfully.
Halfway through my lunch, I suddenly realized that my conscious mind missed the first half of my sandwich. I was typing, unmindful that I was eating. So, with the next bite, I ate more mindfully, paying attention to the different tastes as they passed over my tongue.
Then, since I was simultaneously typing this article (multitasking would surely seem to go against any mindfulness “rules”), I decided to do so with mindfulness.
Normally when I type, my fingers fly across the keyboard and I pay no attention to them whatsoever. In fact, that’s one of the things I like about typing—it’s like my hands know a foreign language, and they’re so fluent that I don’t have to even think about what they’re trying to say. I just allow them to say it. But today, I decided to put my awareness in my fingertips, mindfully. I felt the smoothness of my keyboard; it was so smooth it was almost soft. I noticed each movement of my hand.
But then, with all my attention in my fingers, I started thinking about where the letters were, and suddenly I made typo after typo. I realized it was unconsciousness that allowed my fingers to type, not consciousness.
I took another bite of my sandwich and realized how hard it is to be truly mindful of two things at once. I wondered if my extremely multitasking life could really handle mindful living on an ongoing basis. How would I drive, talk on my cell phone, navigate, drink water, plan the next day, and make my to-do list if I paid true and mindful attention to everything I did?
Then the thought crossed my mind: How do I truly live, if I don’t pay attention? Just like the first half of the sandwich that my mind fully missed while I thought about other things, how much of our lives are we missing while we unmindfully do so much? I realized it isn’t the mindfulness I should sacrifice for the multitasking; it’s the other way around.
Single-tasking in Your Relationships
I can’t help but wonder how a multitasking lifestyle impacts relationships. What if we were really present with each and every person we spoke to? I have few regrets in life, but the thing I will always regret is not being more mindful when my mom called to talk. I remember that I was always happy to hear from her, but I also remember doing a lot of other things while I talked with her, not giving her my full attention nor giving myself hers. That is the one thing I’m not sure I will ever forgive myself for, now that I can no longer have phone conversations with my mom. Yet I’m still guilty of doing the same thing with other people who I love! I have been known to be talking to my husband while simultaneously opening email, instant messaging with at least two other people, and watching TV at the same time.
Do we multitask because we have so much to do, or because we are consciously or unconsciously avoiding being truly present and mindful with someone else? What is so important that we don’t have the time to be truly present to love and communication?
[Read about how mindfulness lives in single-tasking.]
While I may be mindful in one area of my life, simultaneously there are many areas where I am not; the same is likely true for you. My mindfulness seems to work more like a roving spotlight, shining on one thing then the next, seldom illuminating the whole of me and my life at once. For some, that spotlight hasn’t even been turned on; no self-observation has ever taken place. The beauty, power, and peacefulness of the present moment has never been experienced at all.
While it may not be possible to be mindful all day long, the power of a mindful moment shared each day with someone you love can make a relationship strong and rich. To alleviate the negative effects of multitasking, also try a mindful moment with yourself to keep you peaceful and capable of being strong and loving for your partner.
Love Tip of the Week: Give the present moment, whatever it holds, your full attention for even just a few minutes each day. There you will discover peace, joy, love, and connection.
Read more about the pitfalls of multitasking in “Break Your Addiction to Brain Candy.”