What does a traditional Buddhist form of meditation have to do with our contemporary crisis of multitasking? Perhaps everything. Science has confirmed what most of us suspect–we really can’t do it all!
Multiple studies from a variety of research centers have confirmed that although we can usually accomplish many tasks nearly simultaneously, the quality of each task unquestionably suffers. And we suffer as well–emotionally and physically.
Activities which have become almost automatic, such as eating or watching TV seem to be ‘doable’. Clearly most of ‘us’ do not drive well when we are on cell phones. The consequences of lack of reflex response to driving, or drifting out of lanes etc are potentially lethal.
Studies have shown that we are less efficient when we do multiple tasks. Responding to calls or emails when we are engaged in deep concentration always results in a considerable ‘down time’ trying to reconnect with our previous work. In a similar vein, when we multitask, we often lose the ‘creative edge’, responding, instead to tasks with routine or uninspired results.
We may be producing more–but we are sacrificing quality for quantity. In many fields, this is just not acceptable. Nor should it be.
The bottom line: we need to become more mindful, more aware of the present moment. To do so is what mindfulness meditation is all about. It is the opposite of the multitasking frenzy which has overtaken many of us.
It is not coincidence that many of us are suffering from more anxiety, insomnia, drug use, eating disorders, stress related disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, TMJ, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, tension headaches etc. Multitasking is assuredly behind much of it.
To practice mindfulness, we must relinquish the fantasy that we can do it all. We must pay attention to one thing, in the present moment. We must make time to do so by creating sacred spaces in our lives which we can devote to specific tasks and not respond to other tasks. We must honor our physical/mental/spiritual needs for rest and peace. We must turn off our pagers, blackberries, beepers, phones, ipods, internet connections.
We must carve whatever time we have into periods of specific activity. We can periodically check-in with the rest of the world, but we must honor those times when we are not available. It is ultimately what is best for our own health, the health of those around us, and will allow us to reach our highest potential.