It’s pretty hard in this day and age not to succumb to the siren call of multi-tasking.
There never seems to be enough time to get everything done, so we try to do many things at once. Which really means we don’t do any one thing fully or completely.
I’m as susceptible to this tendency as the next person, but I’m also very clear about the negative effect that it has on me, so I try very hard to combat it. Which doesn’t mean that it’s not a struggle to do so, because it’s easy to think that combining activities will be more productive, or that I won’t get everything done if I don’t.
But doing many things at once creates a state of mind that utterly contradicts the practice and goal of Yoga which is “the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind” or, to paraphrase Patanjali, quieting the mind and not being so distracted and consumed by one’s chronic chatter.
Which is a compelling idea, but awfully hard to put into practice, especially if your mind is constantly jumping between activities and topics.
In this frantic state you are much more vulnerable to the roller coaster ride of thoughts and feelings that cycle through your psyche. How not, when you your brain is so used to flitting back and forth between events?
When this is the norm you don’t have any practice at resisting whatever the next input is. So of course you fall prey to the thought or feeling of the moment. And end up identifying with it, which Patanjali identifies as the root cause of all suffering. But that’s the topic for another blog …
For now my point is more about how to cultivate a quality of mind that isn’t so tumultuous, so that you can move through the world with greater ease and calm.
And my experience has taught me that one of the most powerful ways to accomplish this is to “do just one thing” at a time.
Which is both harder and more satisfying than you might think.
Here are some of the ways I catch myself falling off the wagon: walking my dog and talking on the phone; practicing asana and listening to political affairs podcasts; answering email while watching basketball, tennis, baseball, whatever the sport of a given season …
And here is the reason I inevitably regret it when I forget to do only one thing: the benefits are so palpably diminished.
I don’t get the immediate benefit of the asana, the beautiful canine, the time in nature, the thrill of victory/the agony of defeat etc. And I don’t get the lingering benefits of having been fully immersed in whatever the task or activity was. And that is the real disadvantage.
Because when we do just one thing, when we are truly absorbed by whatever we are involved in, our minds focus and slow down. And the more that happens, the more it becomes how we are in the world. And who would you rather be? Stressed out but checking things off the “to do” list, or less efficient, but more serene?
So consider the following proposal: For 3 days (a weekend!) only do one thing at a time. Only wash the dishes, only drive the car, only watch a movie, only cook, only practice asana, only sit still and scratch the dog. But really only do one thing. And then notice how you feel at the end of it. You might feel the way you do just after a lovely Savasana (in the moments before you turn your cell phone back on).