“Open your eyes, and look within.”~ Robert Nesta Marley (aka ‘Bob’)
What a distracted society we have become. We are no longer satisfied with doing things one activity at a time. For some reason we feel inadequate, lazy, or incomplete when we focus on one single thing. The generation coming up are experts at multi-tasking: somehow they are able to study, listen to music, live stream a video, facetime with friends, play Candy Crush and paint their nails all at the same time.
But what do we achieve when we set ourselves such ambitious goals? I remember my father telling me a story of the time he went to visit one of his sick church members. As he sat listening to her, he glanced at his watch. She immediately apologized for keeping him so long, and bid him farewell. He remembered feeling bad, that he had made her think he was not listening to her. But today we are doing even more than glancing at our watches while we converse with friends. We are checking our phone for messages; emails; facebook updates and more. No wonder we can’t remember things, we were not paying attention in the first place.
Yet we have been given these amazing bodies with a nervous system designed to constantly monitor the environment, and give us rich detailed information about the world around us. We can do more than just listen to the problems of our friends. We can look in their face and see their sorrow. We can hear the pain in their voices. We can reach out and hold their hand, to show our connection to them. Hearing what they say is not the same as listening.
I remember driving down to South West Miami after Hurricane Andrew. I had seen the photographs of the devastation in the newspaper, and seen videos of the destroyed buildings. Yet nothing prepared me for the actual sight. Our eyes and brain can take in this 360 degree view of the wreckage that the TV cannot replicate. The Grand Canyon had the same effect on me. I had seen travel films of its grandeur, yet words failed me when I stood trying to take in the complete scene. I felt the need to recite psalms, to bow at the magnificence of the view. My parents had visited Arizona before I did, and I asked my father what he thought of the view. He told me that he had to turn his back on it, and go and have an ice cream!
Whenever I visit Wales I want to hold on to the memories of the magnificent mountains. I have the same experience in Jamaica. How can I keep those views in my mind’s eye while living in Miami? And so I take photographs. Yet a 2D representation is a mere reminder, it cannot hold the smells, the sounds, the feeling of the breeze on your face, the crash of the surf against a rocky beach. One early morning I tried to take a photograph of the waning moon at the end of December, and opened a window for a better shot. Immediately I was assailed by the dawn chorus, birds busily singing, announcing the day that approached.
Do we appreciate our lives with all of our senses? Do we stop and give thanks for the wealth of our lives? If you stop for a moment and look around, how many things are you taking for granted, barely paying attention to, not experiencing all they have to offer with all of your senses? Some months ago I attended a meditation session, and was reminded of the importance of doing one thing at a time. The art of meditation is to ignore the distractions, to focus on your breathing, and to just meditate. It is called mindful awareness, being in the moment, just doing one thing and doing it well. The man who was leading the session reminded us: “When you are driving, just drive. When you are talking with a friend, just talk. When you are meditating, just meditate.”
It takes discipline to avoid the distractors in life. I once read that when Mao Tse Tung was at university, he would take his textbooks and sit in the center of the city, at the busiest intersection to study. How many of us would be able to ignore honking cars, the screech of brakes, the hustle and bustle of city life to retain anything we read? It takes practice and discipline.
For me the distractions are internal. My mind loves to race ahead to all of the things I should be doing, instead of concentrating on the task at hand. Like many people, I overcommit myself, and will be looking at several deadlines looming at the same time. This may relate to another of my talents: procrastination! But for whatever the reason, I will find myself tormented by the many tasks which seem to require my attention at the same time. Yet the reality is that we are not as clever as we like to think we are. We can multitask and do many things badly, or we can do one thing at a time and do it well.
Most of us were taught that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing properly. And also, that you are more likely to do it properly if you take your time. I remember hemming a skirt once, threading my needle with a long piece of thread to save time having to thread a second length. My mother called that a lazy man’s load since the extra-long thread required a much bigger effort! Jamaicans say ‘Long-cut draw sweat; short-cut draw blood’ – reminding us of the dangers of taking a short-cut.
This weekend I hope you can stop and pay attention to what you are doing, so that you can truly appreciate all aspects of the experience and give it your full attention. Just as the driver who cuts in and out of traffic ends up at the same stop light as you, so it is that as you try to multi-task and rush to meet deadlines, you get them done just as well if you take your time and do each one properly. Use the senses you were given to make the most of every day. There may come a time when you will try to recall the sensations of a sensational life, and the more attention you have paid, the sweeter will be the memories.
Have a great weekend Family!