You can only do one thing at a time. Contrary to popular belief, humans cannot multi-task. What we can do is combine automated tasks with tasks that are not so automatic. It’s one of the reasons why texting and driving is so dangerous. When you divide your attention between two tasks that require your entire attention, you do not give the attention to either.
There is an old Zen saying that I have recently garnered an appreciation for:
“Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.”
What does this mean exactly? Before and after we are doing both tasks and the tasks are the same. The difference is presence.
We live in a state of constant distraction and hyper-stimulation, and because of this we have become desensitized to what happens around us and quite simply spend too much of our time looking to what’s next. When we are in the moment, we no longer feel the need to watch the clock. Whatever your task, whatever your moment, drink it all in and focus on it. Bring all of yourself to it and when you are fully present (enlightened in the context of the quote), labour is no longer a burden. Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.
No matter how menial the task, practicing mindfulness is the path to happiness. When you are fully focused on your task at hand, there is appreciation and enjoyment to be found.
When was the last time you actually tasted your food, listened to the noises of cars on the road, or tried to separate the voices of songbirds instead of lumping them together as “birds singing”. It’s time to wake up and appreciate the moment.
What is happiness and enjoyment if not a series of moments, times, places, and dates? When you are present and focused, you will begin to find happiness everywhere in every moment.
It is very easy to not be present. There are bills to pay, kids to pick up, food to cook, and a host of other daily tasks that keep our minds occupied and somewhere else. The best way to be present is to practice and look at when in life we are already being present by default.
So: Be present, enjoy life, and be happy.
Here are a couple of quick ways to practice being present:
- Just listen to what’s around you, separate the sounds, and take them in.
- When in a conversation, focus only on what the other person says, then take a moment to respond. Do not pre-think your answer. Just focus on what your conversation partner is saying.
- Taste your food. Eat it slowly. Enjoy the mix of flavor. Feel the texture on your tongue. Savour it.
- When you wake in the morning, feel the warmth. Listen to your alarm. Feel the texture of the blanket around you. Listen to the sounds outside.