Somewhere, somehow we all became conditioned to multitask. We were told that it’s an awesome trait. That it’s the key to success. At work. At home. The sign of the times.
We accept that our kids multitask from birth. We celebrate their ability to work on one screen, play on another and listen to music all at the same time. We accept the narrative that it’s just “this generation of kids” and it’s what “they all do these days.”
For us. For them. For everyone on the planet.
In my own journey, I used to tout that I was great at it with a sense of pride. “Look how fast I can go and how much I can get done at the same time.” That it was the key to my ability to juggle two companies, manage many initiatives at work and at home and stay on the go 24/7. GO GO GO!
But it nearly killed me.
The stress of it all.
I wasn’t really great at anything. But I got alot of boxes checked. The faster the better. The more the better. I would read, email, listen and talk all at the same time and be present in none of it.
The truth was I was a mess inside. I never gave myself permission to stop. And it’s what everyone around me was doing. What society was doing. What the media was telling us. And on and on.
And then one day I just said no more. I was miserable. I was too stressed. And I was not happy living this way. My mind was racing all the time. My own thoughts were fighting with each other for my attention! What a mess.
I started meditating and chanting more. And reading things like Buddhas Brain which talked about how multitasking is really horrible for our health and our brains especially.
One of the most inspirational people I have ever come across is Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a well known Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist.
Thích Nhất Hạnh’s approach to mindfulness and spirituality has been to combine a variety of traditional Zen and Buddhist teachings. He has also been a leader in the Engaged Buddhism movement promoting the individual’s active role in creating change.
His teachings and writings on mindfulness are legendary and he is considered one of the most influential teachers on this subject. His work has had a huge impact on me and helped me in my own spiritual growth immensely.
Hanh’s core teaching suggests that we treat each of our activities as an opportunity for being aware: “Walking, we should be aware that we are walking; breathing, we should be aware of our breathing. We should not focus on anything other than the thing that we are doing.” One of the key methods that Hanh presents is learning to be aware of our breathing.
He teaches that aside from being aware of our physical selves, awareness requires an awareness of our mind. Hanh suggests that we notice and acknowledge our thoughts, but not allow them to influence us in any way. We should recognize our feelings, thoughts and ideas, but never judge them because they are us.
I have read one of his most famous books, The Miracle Of Mindfullnesss more times than I can count. What I learned from his teachings is how to use breathing and mindfullness throughout my day and nights. How when I feel stress or anxiety coming, and I can sense the physical signs, I resort to his techniques of breathing and being more mindful of my surroundings or the moment at hand. It’s amazing how well it works for me!
If I am driving in the car and my mind wanders to thoughts (the movies in my head), I look outside and see the beauty of the day. If someone is doing something that might cause me stress previously, I breathe heavily and see the pain the person in front of me might be suffering from. Finding compassion in every situation.
Some of my favorite quotes from his book on mindfulness include:
“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.”
“In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.”
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
“Those who are without compassion cannot see what is seen with the eyes of compassion.”
“Your breathing should flow gracefully, like a river, like a watersnake crossing
the water, and not like a chain of rugged mountains or the gallop of a horse. To master our breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds.”
“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
“Everyday we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
“Mindfulness is like that—it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.”
“Don’t do any task in order to get it over with. Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, with all your attention. Enjoy and be one with your work.”
“Half-smile when you first wake up in the morning. Hang a branch, any other sign, or even the word “smile” on the ceiling or wall so that you see it right away when you open your eyes. This sign will serve as your reminder. Use these seconds before you get out of bed to take hold of your breath. Inhale and exhale three breaths gently while maintaining the half smile. Follow your breaths.”
“The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person you are with, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.”
“Only this actual moment is life.”
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything — anger, anxiety, or possessions — we cannot be free.”
“If we are not in control of ourselves but instead let our impatience or anger interfere, then our work is no longer of any value.”
“Each time we find ourselves dispersed and find it difficult to gain control of ourselves by different means, the method of watching the breath should always be used.”
Here is a great video interview Oprah did with Thích Nhất Hạnh…
Being mindful has really changed my life. The book Buddha’s Brain along with Miracle of Mindfulness both had a profound impact on me. It was a one-two solution for me. Learning how to control my thoughts and then how to be mindful put me in the present of every situation. I wrote about it in a previous blog.
And as a result, my work is more focused. I am more present in my conversations at work, home and with friends. Life has slowed down. I laugh more. I see more. My stress is virtually non-existent (even though the situations around me haven’t changed).
Here is an example how mindfulness has changed one particular aspect of my daily life:
When I used to run outside (or any type of exercise), I would do my best thinking I would tell myself. Thoughts came into my brain non-stop. I would at times stop and send an email or jot down the brilliant:) thought I came up with. But after a run, I know my heart was helped, but my brain wasn’t. Now when I run and practice mindfulness, I shut down those thoughts and I see the trees, the sky, the people around me. And when I am finished, I feel great both mentally and physically. And when I decide it’s time to work on something, my work is more focused and better as a result.
When I read a book, I read better. When I watch a movie, I see it more clearer. And on and on. Present in every moment.
Even something as simple as walking down the street for me — I would become lost in my thoughts and not see anything. Or on a drive. Or when someone was talking to me. I was never there, but somewhere else. Lost in thought. Lost.
The ability to focus was something I had lost. Something maybe we all have lost in this age of so many distractions and temptations.
Here is a quick read on how to get started practicing mindfulness.
And another great read is this article on how kids are learning mindfulness.
And finally, an article how it is making a difference in healthcare.
Thanks to understanding how our brains work and how to practice mindfulness, I am living moment by moment and completely stress free. I have also trained my mind to not think of yesterday or tomorrow. Or even five minutes from now. Every thought/observation is in the present tense. It’s also amazing that when you live like this, the days are actually longer and so much more fulfilling.
Life is beautiful again thanks to the extraordinary Thích Nhất Hạnh and the Miracle of Mindfulness.