Smelling the Roses

“I feel a little alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. I would fain forget all my morning’s occupation, my obligations to society. But sometimes it happens that I cannot easily shake off the village; the thought of some work, some surveying, will run in my head, and I am not where my body is, I am out of my senses like a bird or beast. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” – Thoreau’s Journal: 25-Nov-1850

What business indeed do any of us have juggling multiple activities at once? We drive with the radio on and cellphone firmly attached to ear. Where is our focus? Our concentration? While we’re piloting a 4,000-pound potential killing machine, one would hope it was solely on driving safely. You don’t have to look far to read about cellphone-related traffic accidents to understand that as a society we’re not particularly on task most of the time.

Photo by Gary. All rights reserved.

Being present minded is often brushed off as no less than eastern mystic mumbo-jumbo when it’s really the only way to fully enjoy anything we might do. I bet many of you practiced a little present mindedness when you sat down to enjoy the Thanksgiving repast last Thursday. What’s that? You say you ate your meal while watching the football game? My point exactly.

It’s not like the world gives us encouragement when it comes to focusing on only one thing at a time, at least for those of us living in western society. We live in a blur of do this now while you’re doing that and as you finish that other thing…and oh yes, don’t forget this. We’re rewarded for doing more in less time, and for cramming more of life into a less-than-lived existence.

For some time now I’ve tried to implement a present-minded approach to being, but it’s difficult to break old familiar ways. One positive thing coming out of the NaNoWriMo effort has been an increased ability to concentrate. It’s not that the concentration is yielding incredible prose (hah…), more that I’m finding a renewed ability to do _one thing_ only and enjoy the process. I sat at Borders Friday afternoon and wrote three hours worth of word count and it felt like I was sitting there 30 minutes. Other than a couple of quick breaks, I’m not sure I remember much about anything else around me during that writing session. I’m hoping to find this writing frenzy will lead to a quiet refusal to multi-task whenever possible. I’m also hoping that some intangibles like that will come out of the 30-day experiment, since wonderful prose won’t be rising out of the effort!

3 thoughts on “Smelling the Roses

  1. Ah, yes, a subject often on my mind. Should I or shouldn’t I multi-task? How to really, really do what I’m doing. How to be mindful of what one is doing, how to really be present, smell the roses rather than just zipping along mindlessly towards a future that never comes, trying to do everything, but not really doing any of it.

    One random thing from my blog on the subject (let’s see if html is allowed): Multi-tasking or not

  2. Joel

    I noticed the same effect, too, while writing my NaNoWriMo draft. Focus especially intensified when the coffeeshop got noisy from the customers. I consider it another form of meditation.

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