Threading My Multi-tasking with Presence
Being good at multi-tasking is something that many people pride themselves on, especially parents and working parents. We live in a society where there is always too much to do and not enough time to do it! Therefore we multi-task in an effort to get more done in less time. It’s not uncommon to see people driving in their cars doing any multitude of other things, like eating, applying make-up, talking or texting, when all they should be doing is paying attention to the road! With technology the way it is today we see multi-tasking happening in new inventive ways. It used to be people would sit in front of the television while eating, this practice became so popular in one era that it led to the invention of TV trays! But nowadays people have ipads and iphones and handheld devices making it possible to check email, text and watch videos no matter where they are or whatever else they are supposed to be doing. While all this can be helpful, and convenient at times, it also comes at cost.
While one is busy multi-tasking it means that they are not fully performing one task or the other. Their attention is split between two or even three tasks at the same time. So what does that mean? Well, it means that they are not fully present when doing said tasks. They are distracted with the other tasks at hand. They are not mindful. Thus, they might make a mistake, or miss something important, and this all generates subconscious stress.
I am a busy mother, myself, of two middle school aged children. I work three to five days a week depending on the week. I prepare all the meals in my home, do all the grocery shopping, majority of the house work, all the laundry, care for our family dog, take the kids to all their after school activities and events, I am a PTA President, and a dedicated disciple of my spiritual teacher Acharya Shunya in her Vedic Spiritual Studies Program. Because that program is run by volunteers, I have also signed up for various selfless service (seva) commitments.
Naturally, I often find myself multi-tasking whether it’s being on the phone helping a PTA unit while starting the laundry or washing the dishes, then it might be helping kids with homework while preparing dinner. Lately however, there have been a few instances where I couldn’t remember where I put something or I forgot a conversation or response to a question that I had asked one of my children and needed to ask them again. Then during a spiritual discourse (satsangha) a few weeks ago, my teacher, Acharya Shunya touched upon a topic that she has shared with us on many occasions over the past ten plus years that I have been studying with her. She said, "Be present. Be mindful in whatever you are doing, be it washing the dishes, preparing a meal, taking out the trash, whatever it is. We should be focused on that task and not distracted with other tasks, whether they are physical tasks, mental tasks, or both."
Such a simple practice that makes such a huge difference! After being reminded of this important practice once again, I realized that it was my multi-tasking that was causing me to forget things or not remember them at all. Too often we let this busy, hurried life push us along and we so easily get caught up in what we feel we need to accomplish and we miss what’s happening right in front of us.
The other day I was arriving at work and while walking to my classroom I heard a bird singing, I stopped and looked around for the bird. It was perched up on top of the roof, right on the crest and it was singing so loudly and proudly it's chest all puffed up. It was beautiful and it made me smile to see it and hear it, to experience it in that moment, to be totally present, standing there with the bird. For several moments I was focused only on the bird, how she looked, how she sounded, why she was singing and then I began to observe myself standing there watching the bird and I thought, what might someone think who sees me stopped right there staring towards the roof?
Then I wished that someone would come by and would ask why I was just standing there so that I could share this sweet lesson of being present, of being mindful, of letting go of this need to multi-task every minute of our lives. After a few minutes or so the bird flew off and I continued to my classroom and about my day, but the experience stayed with me. That short time of being fully present and mindful of the bird and her beautiful song filled my soul and I believe that I was a better teacher that day. I had more patience, more energy, I was more filled with joy and happiness which then flowed out onto my students. I am so grateful to be reminded again and again of this simple but most important teaching, for lessons on being present, staying mindful.
This experience with the bird actually occurred before I heard Acharya Shunya's discourse at our wisdom school satsangha, Vedika Global. However once I heard the teaching again, it put this experience into perspective for me. I have found that over my many years of study I am most easily able to be present and stay mindful when I maintain the time and space for my practices, like meditation, japa mala, mantra chanting, taking 100 steps after meals, sitting at the feet of my teacher and hearing her discourse upon ancient Vedic wisdom from ageless texts and even stopping to breathe fully between tasks. Even one breath does the work.
When I am maintaining my practices, and contemplations on a greater spiritual reality that lives outside me and expresses itself in my heart, then when life does start to push me along in it’s hurried way, seducing me yet again to multi-task mindlessly, the universe sends me a beautiful bird to sing me a song and remind me what is presently important. Renewed through sacred knowledge, I can mindfully attend to all my tasks with greater ease and grace, one task at a time.
With a soul full of gratefulness,
Siddhi JoAnna Traski
The author Siddhi JoAnna Traski s a long-term student of Acharya Shunya and serves as Chair to Acharya Shunya's Ecclesiastical Council.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta with Acharya Shunya in her Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.