As I write this, I am sitting at a lovely restaurant on the beach, waiting for a friend to join me for breakfast. Such profound pleasure, to be able to sit and watch the surf crashing up onto the sand, drinking coffee, writing, and enjoying wonderful company. I am trying to allow myself to be fully grounded in the moment…really tasting my coffee, listening to the sound of the waves, appreciating the rhythm of the tide as it washes towards the shore. The edge of the restaurant blends with the sand and water, giving rise to the sensation of floating.
I am challenged by my thoughts that keep intruding and interfering with my moment. Am I forgetting something? Did I turn off the stove this morning? The kids would really love to be here right now. I need to buy a birthday present for Sunday’s party.
My emotions join the party. I feel so guilty that I am taking a moment at the beach while the kids are at school. I am worried that I won’t accomplish everything I need to today. I feel frustrated that I didn’t wake up in time to exercise this morning.
And all the while, outer distractions also abound, tempting me to engage. Texts pop up on my phone. I can’t help but notice the two women next to me taking a selfie with their food in front of them and the ocean behind them. I jump over for a second to the email tab that is also open on my computer to see if any new emails arrived in the last few minutes.
The present moment is always available to us…but the question is, are we available for the present moment?
I realize more and more that in order to connect in the most direct, personal way with what is unfolding within me and outside of me, I need to abide by one guiding principle: Do one thing at a time. One thing at a time. And although this sounds like it should be so simple to do, in fact, it is very difficult to practice, at least for me.
Almost always, there are several things that I am engaging in at one time. I have my phone in my hand as I drink my coffee. I make calls while I drive. I flip through a magazine while having lunch. Conversations are interrupted with beeps, rings, photos, check-ins and scrolling.
Unless I am truly paying attention and make a concerted effort, I naturally take on multiple things at once. At one point in time, I think I mistakenly believed that this was adaptive, that multi-tasking would allow me to accomplish my to do list more quickly. That I would be faster, more efficient, capable of doing more.
I realize now that my mind is not wired to multi task. It makes me feel fragmented and fatigued, without my awareness or knowledge. I can’t think well. I feel dis-engaged from what I am doing, and from my surroundings. I feel like I can’t make decisions or prioritize.
Doing one thing at a time also means becoming aware of how enticing my ever present thoughts and emotions are. I can so easily get lost in my head, instead of being present in my body. I can future trip and what if myself into infinity, all the while losing touch with my feet on the ground and the breath in my lungs.
So I am recommitting, every day, to my mantra of one thing at a time. I remind my children too, in an effort to remind myself, and to help them practice the skill of mindful attention from a young age. When we walk, we walk. When we eat, we eat. When we read, we read.
Whatever it is we are doing, we do so consciously, fully, with intention. One thing at a time. Even if only for a split second before we are required to shift to what is next in line.
And when I do so, I am brought back to the beauty of the here and now. So often, everything that we think we need, everything that we are striving for, everything that we are seeking, is present in our lives, if we can access it. If we are here for it, rather than distracted by the constant internal chatter of our thoughts and feelings, or distracted by the constant background hum of technology.
When we are truly here, we can notice such beauty. We can find peace within us. We can discover gratitude for the smallest of moments that otherwise would have passed us by.
Even now. As I write, I write. I feel the keys under my fingertips. I see the words appear on the screen. I pause for a moment and shift my attention to the vast ocean outside of the window. How there are so many shades of blue and green rippling through the depths of the water. The sound that is at once a quiet hum and a loud roar. The dusky pink clouds that rest on the horizon. Who might be staring at the same water on the other side of the world. And then I return to my words again.
One thing at a time.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in noticing how we go about our lives. How many things are we doing at once? How often are we seduced by external distractions or internal static? Is there an opportunity to practice doing just one thing at a time, fully?
With gratitude, Monisha