Here is a mystery:
What exactly is the well-being we are striving for? What allows us to reach it and what gets in the way?
Looking for Something
Some of us love the exciting flow of performance, like a juggler who keeps many colorful balls moving in the air. Others of us yearn for an experience of depth and quietude. Some of us want both! And we may bounce back and forth, working intensely on our day job and seeking relief in meditation retreats on the weekend.
What is a 21st century person to do?
It’s not true for everyone that an exciting fast pace is bad and slow mindful activity is good. At the same time, many of us do wish to be able to feel more presence in our lives, for time to slow down just a bit. And yet we find that a slow pace does not come naturally. The longer we live on this planet, the faster time seems to fly by. Our days are often filled with managing our diverse responsibilities, and we feel an ongoing pressure to get things done. Feeling an overarching need to accomplish, we may distance or even disconnect ourselves from our other needs and sometimes even from our real abilities. Then we use different strategies to do more than we are naturally capable of, including multitasking and the use of stimulants like caffeine and sugar. Afterwards we may need time to recover from this mode and come back to our inner equilibrium, to find our own pace and style again.
The Challenge of Multitasking
Multitasking refers to doing several things at the same time. Most of us feel we’ve had to learn to multitask, and some even feel we’ve perfected it and are functioning in this way day by day quite well. But most people don’t know that, according to neuroscientists, we actually don’t have this ability. What we do when we try to mimic it, is to shift our attention quickly between the tasks we are performing. This creates a feeling of fast-paced accomplishment, while actually little good work gets done in any of these tasks. You can find a very good talk (about 20 min. long) about research concerning multitasking here. I really recommend listening to this talk.
Like a computer with too many open windows slowing everything down, multitasking causes more stress on our nervous system because of the complexity of this challenge. And we start longing for relaxing downtime at home or in nature after that.
This information has caused me to watch myself multitask, observe what it feels like, and see if it actually leads me where I want to go. Sometimes doing many things at once gets me into some kind of flow that I enjoy and I jump around and really do get things done. At other times I have to do something again and again because my mind was not really present and the results weren’t so good.
The Intelligence of Mindfulness
Making a plan and then doing one thing at a time tends to feel relaxed and allows for good integration between the different steps. Working in this way allows for continuing presence. Body and mind can go along with each other all the way and don’t need long times of recovery to come into balance again. But these days in both our work life and also in our private life we tend to follow a mode and a pace that is not primarily oriented towards an integration of body and mind. In the post Inner Peace I wrote more about mindfulness and its benefits, sharing links to guided exercises. Another help is the famous Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, well-known for his calming, balancing, and mindful teachings. He can help us learn to live more mindfully and so develop a more integrated and happier outer and inner experience.
♥ The following link leads to a short explanation by Thich Nhat Hanh:
♥ Oprah interviewed him on her Super Soul Sunday show.
And there are many books and articles by and about him out there. You can find more information on the website of his Mindfulness Practice Center “Plum Village” in France.
So what helps us to reach the well-being we are striving for? To a certain degree this is a very individual question, because we are more or less gifted with a tendency toward fast-paced complex activity or a slower, more focused attention. I like to observe how I choose either of these modes in different activities. This choosing feels more or (often) less conscious. Many times my daily activities and my job requires me to do more things at a time than I would like to. Sometimes I might notice feelings of overwhelm and at other times I might enjoy the flow.
A suggestion for an exercise this week is to just observe, without trying to change anything, when we feel driven, like we have to perform in certain ways; and when we feel relaxed and present, with a feeling of freedom about how we are driving.
Enjoy a week of observations and discoveries.
P.S: More Links to articles about this subject if you’d like to look further:
♥ Three articles about the research (there are many more out there):