How often do you multitask, or divide your attention between more than one task at the same time? I do it often, usually without noticing I'm doing so. Even though I have meditated for years, I still struggle with being present.
I was talking to a friend about this the other day. We spend so much of our lives thinking or doing, while we're doing something else, that we often let life pass us by, not noticing the miracles unfold before us. Because I too often fall into this trap, I've recently begun a daily practice of noticing – noticing the flowers as their buds form and then open, noticing the first signs of Spring, noticing the hummingbirds at my feeder. But it's effortful for me at this point. It doesn't feel natural to simply just be present and allow whatever is going to happen to happen. I'm still so easily distracted by my monkey mind.
So I began to explore why I do this. Why I can't simply be still and allow the unfolding. I came up with several ahas from my reflection process:
- I still have too many things on my to do list each day – although I limit myself to a to do list of my three most important tasks, these tasks often have many subtasks that need to get done for the entire task to be completed. But that's cheating. It's not my three most important tasks if it's really 20 tasks that comprise those three.
- I still struggle with not tying my sense of self-worth to my productivity. I think many of us were raised in environments where our worth – our value – was determined by how much we accomplished each day and/or how well we did it. Breaking decades of conditioning is difficult to do. Thus, although I am aware that I still do it, it doesn't always mean I can stop myself in my tracks.
- As much as I enjoy my meditation time, too much silence is still a bit uncomfortable for me. I find myself wanting to fill that silence with something. So I need to learn to get more comfortable with silence and stillness. That will be a challenge for me, but one I am eager to accept.
How do I plan to accomplish all of this? To get more present, more comfortable with be-ing, more comfortable with silence and stillness? I'm going to have to get outside my comfort zone.
- Instead of organizing my day around the tasks that I need to get done before I quit working, I'm going to try exploring organizing my day around time. So if I decide I'm going to stop working at 2 PM, I stop working at 2 PM, regardless of what I have or have not gotten done that day. While this will be uncomfortable if I have not accomplished everything on my to do list, I think it will help me re-organize and prioritize what's most important for me. It should also have the side benefit of holding me more accountable to actually focusing during the hours I do allot for work (I am notorious for getting derailed by email…)
- I'm going to schedule in “noticing breaks.” I want to be able to go outside and just be. Listen to the birds chirping, notice the wind as it crosses my skin, stop and smell the roses. That being said, I think it will actually be more challenging for me if I take some of these breaks inside – where I'm more likely to get derailed or sidetracked by things that are crying out for my attention – like dirty laundry it needs to be washed or things I need to pick up in the kitchen. Just noticing those things, being a silent and still observer, and not acting on them, will definitely challenge my sense of orderliness. It should be a good exercise for me.
- I'm going to practice my active listening skills. So often when we're engaged with someone else – either in person or on the phone – in the back of our minds, we're thinking about something else. But that's truly not fair to us or to them. And it certainly is not being present. Most people can sense when we're not present with them. I'm sure you've had that feeling before – that someone wasn't really listening to you when you were talking to them. Half the time, I'm guessing the other person doesn't even realize consciously that they're doing it. I know I don't. The challenge for me will be stopping when I notice my mind going down a rabbit hole and actually being mindfully present.