Over the past year and a half I’ve been trying to become more present within my life, essentially more mindful of what I am doing at this moment, rather than replaying the past or worrying about the future. But the more mindful you become, the more evident it becomes at how unmindful you often are. Having worked for a couple start-ups and then running my own business, I am used to wearing many different hats and constantly multi-tasking. It had gotten to the point 2 years ago, a normal weekday night would involve working late on my laptop, in front of the TV, while texting, talking on the phone, eating, blogging and drinking wine. The thought of just watching TV or just eating or just editing photos at night seemed horrible. Why would you ever want to do just one thing when you can do 15 at the same time? This even carried out into my social life, in that I could never carry on a face to face conversation without texting, emailing and/or tweeting at the same time. I had all sorts of excuses for this behavior (I own an online store and always get customer questions, sales, etc therefore I need to check my Blackberry every second, etc.) but the end result was that I was never fully conscious of my actions no matter what I was doing or where I was, except maybe when I was asleep. Reading a book, or anything beyond 3 pages was nearly impossible as I had very little attention span for more than 15 minutes. Going to the movies where I would have to sit for an entire 2 hours and pay attention to 1 thing was like hell and made me extremely anxious.
As a child and teenager I could sit and read a book for hours. Or just take a walk. Or lay on a blanket in my yard and stare up at the sky. What had happened to that? Where had my patience gone?
The more I discuss this with friends, especially entrepreneurs, the more I see this as a common phenomena. Rarely do you see a person just walking alone and not checking their phone (at least in NYC). It’s common to text through out the day, while working, eating, what have you. The addition of smart phones has meant that email is not something just left for work communication but can be taken anywhere and answered at any time. Therefore, you become used to doing at least two things at the same time all the time. It is because of this that yoga appeals to me and many of my multi-tasking friends. In yoga, you must pay attention to what you are doing, otherwise, you can’t hold the pose, or even know what pose the teacher is telling you to get into. You have to be present, to be mindful of your body and breath.
Lately I’ve been trying very hard to just do one thing at a time. To sometimes put my phone in another room so as to not text. When I am walking my dog, I try to pay attention to just her, and our little adventure through the streets. When I am eating, I try to pay attention to my food that I am putting in my mouth, its taste, its texture, versus just mindless putting stuff in my mouth while I watch tv or read the news. I have begun to read books again, and for more than 15 minutes at a time. I’ve even started noticing a new email from a friend in my inbox and instead of interrupting whatever I’m doing to immediately respond, to leave it unopened and first finish my current task at hand. Believe me, I am a work in progress. While writing this I’ve checked my email twice, gone to the bathroom once (really just as an excuse to leave my desk), and stopped writing to ponder if I should now vacuum my apartment. Just like meditation, being present is a practice, not a perfection.