Shards of Consciousness

What will I do later?

I've mentioned before that I work with senior citizens in my day job. Today as I was working I could overhear several talking in the community room, laughing and having a good time. One said "While I'm eating my supper, I'm thinking about what I'm going to have for a snack later."

We've all done it. As we get cleaned up in the morning, we think about the cup of coffee waiting for us. As we drink our coffee, we think about the half-done project at work. As we work, we think about lunch. As we have lunch, we think about dinner. As we have dinner, we think about the book we're reading. As we read, we fall asleep thinking about what's waiting for us at work.

Whenever we are, we are never there. We live life one step ahead of ourselves, focusing on a world that doesn't yet exist and losing contact with where we are now.

In Happiness, Emotion, and Fulfillment - Part II I described stress as largely being caused by focusing on things about which you cannot, or will not take action. Living in the future is one of the major causes of stress in our lives. You can't act on the future. It's not here yet. And while you focus on what's going to happen, you lose what is happening now.

This isn't to say not to plan for the future. Anyone with good sense will plan for the future. But when you do your planning, that's what you'll be focused on at that moment, not the bowling you are going to do on Wednesday.

I've talked about using bare attention to learn how to be aware in the moment again. All (all? yeah, right) you have to do is fully focus on the task you are currently performing. If you're watching TV, just watch TV. Don't think about work, the weekend, the fight you had with your wife, what you're having for dinner. Just watch TV. When you're talking to your wife (husband, child, other person), just do that. Don't compare this conversation to other conversations you've had. Just have this conversation. Whatever you're doing, just do that. It may sound easy, but it isn't. I've been working on it for years, and still spend more time somewhen other than now.

What you get out of it is well worth the effort. Your senses are more functional. Thought flows more easily. Stress and tension are reduced. You are more productive. You may even learn to smile again.

One thing at a time. Maybe it would catch on with the techies if we gave it a snifty name like monotasking?

[tags]bare attention, multitasking, monotasking, stress reduction, contentment[/tags]

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10 Responses to What will I do later?

  • We all need an anarchist like you, Rick, to suggest such a wild and crazy notion as staying present, doing one thing at a time, period!

    It feels so good when I do it, why don't I do it more often? Even as I write this, I'm thinking I have to hurry up and get my car to the mechanic . . . sigh!

  • Uh oh! I've been found out. :-)

    I'm no better than you are, Debbie. Why don't any of us stay with what we're doing more often? It's hard. One thing that has always stuck with me is the old Zen story where the student asks the teacher what he needs to be enlightened, and the teacher tells him to pay attention.

    Attention is the coinage of our lives, and it is maintained at great cost. I don't know how much our lack of focus is training, and how much is neurology, but all the spiritual disciplines I'm familiar with emphasize that learning to train our attention is the key to growth and freedom.

  • Great post, Rick. Though I've visited a few times, I had not realized you worked with seniors. Blessings to you since I can see you are a kind, gentle person who values people.

    I look at days this way, Rick. Each day is precious and the future is important because "without vision" I die. Now I live "in the moment." That means I enjoy the friends and activities of each day as if it were my last, but I also look forward to future events without bypassing the present.

  • Thank you, Robyn.

    I spent seven years working in community group homes for people with developmental disabilities, and the last eleven years with seniors.

    You've developed a great approach to living. What do you think about enjoying each day, each activity as if it were your first?

  • As usual Rick, you make many excellent points. Living in the moment and totally focussed on the task or the person is so essential in our hurried world.

    One of the major stress points while I was a school teacher was the multi-tasking nature of the job. Survival depended upon this skill. I now look at my daughter who has been teaching for ten years and I shudder - and watch her health and well-being closely.

    A lesson I've learned in more recent years is exactly what you are saying in this article. Relationships are built upon listening - really listening, not just making polite conversation. That's just noise to fill the time or space. To engage in people's lives one has to actively and intentionally listen or "pay attention" to what they are saying and feeling, not just waiting for an opportunity to butt in say your piece or dominate the discussion.

    In my role in leadership in our local church and community groups this is quite intentional. I deliberately and intentionally engage people in conversation, developing understandings, growing relationships and listening - really listening - to what they are saying.

    In order to "pay attention" the cost is minimal; it just requires a little less of me. The rewards, however, are immense. It is truly a "win-win" result.

    #697 | Comment by Trevor on March 9, 2007 11:48am
  • Hi Trevor,

    The listening part was something I had to learn when I was working with people with developmental disabilities. Their cognitive and verbal skills are not as good as yours and mine, but in every other way they are like the rest of us. They do communicate their feelings, wants, likes and dislikes. Learning to pay attention was the only way I had to develop any depth of relationship with the people with whom I worked. You're right. It really is a win-win situation.

  • Sounds a lot like the Zen concept of tea-drinking. "While drinking your tea, drink you tea..."

  • Hi Bill, and welcome.

    The tea ceremony is a specific application of the same concept - mindfulness. It's not new, but just as important,and just as ignored, as it was 2500 years ago.

    Thanks for stopping in.

  • I love the topic of this post! I completely agree with you that most internal stress comes from jumping ahead to the future with your thoughts. Though sometimes, when someone is having an acutely stressful present, it is sometimes soothing to jump into the future with thoughts to witness that the stress will be resolved by then:)

    So, for now...I am enjoying this moment...writing a comment to this blog post!

    Thanks for the post!

  • Thanks for stopping by, Lynne, and for taking the time to comment.

    What you say about sometimes jumping to the future to witness that the stress will be resolved is something that I've used, too. "This too, shall pass, can is an important concept to grasp and remember.

    I look forward to seeing you again. Have a great weekend. :-)

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