Recently I came across a quote, on my “inspirational” calendar. It is attributed to Thich Nhat Hahn, Vietnamese monk, a renowned Zen master, a poet, and a peace activist:
“When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you are drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life.”
Forget about dishes and tea. When was the last time that you fully paid attention to ANYTHING you were doing, as if it had any importance at all? Or, like most of us, were you doing something while thinking about something else? Or doing something, which doing something else at the same time?
Just moments ago, as I was finishing up some emails and administrative work, I had my laptop, I-pad and phone in front of me. I was looking at a text while composing an email and I didn’t even notice until I realized I was texting on the phone while looking at my computer screen wondering why I couldn’t see what I was typing! Splitting my attention was getting me nowhere. And yet, that is so often what we do.
Think about your day so far. Have there been moments of clarity, when your attention is solely focused on one thing? Or, has your day passed by in a blur, all of the things you have to do swirling together? Even waking up has become an opportunity to multi-task. My morning alarm is on my phone, so it is very easy for me to hear the alarm, pick up the phone to turn it off, and then immediately begin to scan the news. And with that, I take away the opportunity to actually wake up to myself. Instead I’m waking up to everything around me. And how about conversations you ave had? Are you fully engaged, or is your head down as you text, or maybe you are thinking about something that already happened? Do you find you can’t remember what someone just told you? Your mind was doing something other than listening.
We really are being driven to distraction with all of the things that constantly call to our attention. And we build skills that help us take in all of this extraneous information and noise. And then taking in all of that information, and always multi-tasking, becomes a habit. And then we lose the skill of paying attention. We think we are getting more done by doing many things at once. However, when we pay attention to everything, we find we actually pay attention to nothing. Our work suffers, our relationships may suffer, and we feel anxious and restless.
So back to the dishes and tea. What if, the next time you are doing the dishes, or drinking tea, you allow that to be the most important thing in your life? You can try this with anything. My favorite is to eat a meal mindfully. The next meal that you eat alone, try not to do anything else. Pay attention as you prepare your food. Set a place at the table. Sit down on a chair. And eat. No phone, no TV, no work. Just you and your meal. Before you eat, take a moment to think about all that happened for you to have this meal before you. And take a moment of gratitude for that. Now you can eat. One bite at a time. Chewing before you swallow. Noticing tastes and textures and your responses to those. How do you feel as you begin to feel full? And when you feel full, stop eating. Pause for a moment and digest the food and the experience. If you are feeling up to it, then take your dishes to the sink and wash them, letting washing the dishes be the most important thing in your life!
Our Yoga and meditation practices give us the opportunity to cultivate a habit of paying attention. One practitioner and one mat. Free from distractions outside of ourselves, so that we can look at what is going on inside. Although I must say that in the past few months I have seen students take phones out of their bags and check them during class. Let’s file that under “missing the point”. Once we come to the mat, we invite ourselves into the present moment, often by a focus on our breath. It’s just in this moment. We do our best not to bring distraction into the moment, but it’s a practice, so we are not perfect at it. The more we practice, the more we might experience that feeling that what we are doing is the most important thing in the world. That every moment is the most important moment in the world.
I invite you to take a break from all the multi-tasking. Make whatever you are doing the most important thing in the world, and watch as you become more present, more balanced, and more you!
During the day do not do one thing while thinking about another. Thought and action must be unified-no thought be permitted without reference to action or intended action; and no action be performed without intention. By this practice all day long the mind and body are taught to act together, without any waste of physical or mental energy.
– Ernest Wood