The Tao Te Ching tells us:
The path of Tao is simple,
Yet people take many detours.
Tao, Chapter 53
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we've all been experiencing increased stress. Whether we're working remotely or essential workers struggling to keep our healthcare system and economy running, many of us have been feeling overwhelmed. We've been multitasking, trying to do two or three things at once. But research has shown that our brains lose vital information when we shift back and forth between tasks, that multitasking actually makes us less efficient.
This is true in our work and especially true in our relationships. Have you ever caught yourself checking your email when talking to someone on the phone? Do you recall seeing a couple at a restaurant staring down at their cell phones, not present to the meal or to each other ? Or have you tried to talk to someone whose attention was divided, distracted by some electronic device?
It takes intention to be present. Like a Zen archer, we must be focused. Our intention, like the arrow, must be aimed at one target, one task at a time. When our minds aren't focused, we will miss the mark.
Each day we are confronted by external demands. Friends and family members, employers, newscasters, politicians, and advertisers are telling us what to buy, what to think, and what to do. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a longtime student of Eastern philosophy, realized how such outside influences threaten to reduce us to reactive subservience. "You will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it," he warned.
Yet as citizens in a democracy, we cannot surrender to outside influences. We must think for ourselves and be present to those around us. This means coming back to center, knowing where to focus, where to aim our intention.
What about you? How do you stay on the path, navigating through the demands around you? How do you remember who you are and why you are here?
Wherever you are, take a moment now to return to center.
- If it's convenient for you, close your eyes.
- Take a deep, mindful breath and slowly release it.
- Breathing slowly and deeply, feel your body relax,
- Feel the rhythm of your heartbeat.
- As you focus your attention
- And intention
- To be right here
- Right now.
Then slowly breathe out as you return to the present moment. By becoming more present and balanced, you will be doing your part to create a more balanced and peaceful world.
Some information in this lesson appeared earlier in Dreher, D. (1996). The Tao of Personal Leadership. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
The Emerson quote from "Self-Reliance" in Emerson's Essays (1926). New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell, p, 38. Originally published 1841.
For insight into how multitasking affects our brains and makes us less efficient, see Foerde, K., Knowlton, B. J., & Poldrack, R. A. (2006). Modulation of competing memory systems by distraction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 11778-11783.