There is a Zen story and the power of focus told by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping fast, and it seems like the man on the horse is on his way somewhere urgently.
Another man, watching by the roadside, shouts out “Where are you going?” and the man on the horse shouts back, “I don’t know, ask the horse!”
Can you relate?
w seem to always be in a rush
We are that man on the horse, we seem to always be in a rush doing this or that, but we really don’t know what we are doing or where we are going half the time.
And we have a heck of a time stopping.
our habit energies
The horse is what Thich Nhat Hahn calls our “habit energy” which pulls us this way and that, always running. Even in our sleep.
A couple of weeks ago I had unexpected reaction to a new medication I am taking which left me in a state of heightened restlessness: I just felt like I was jumping out of my own skin. If I laid down to rest, I would be right back up again in two minutes. I would try to read soothing poetry but had to put the book down in 30 seconds. It was awful.
I think a lot of us are riding the horse of restless, habitual activity all day long. We are getting used to living with chronic frazzle.
That’s why mindfulness is so important!
Mindfulness helps us recognize the chronic frazzle, which is like the rider discovering the horse has reigns. Actually sitting down to meditate is like gently tugging on those reigns for the restless energy to slow down.
The remedy to doing too many things at once, which is at the heart of this restless frazzle for most people, is, yes, to do only one thing at a time. This is the core skill of meditative concentration, or focus power, doing one thing at time.
In actuality, most multitaskers are deluded into thinking that a) multitasking makes them better at their tasks, and b) that they are really multi-tasking.
Neuroscientists have repeatedly proven that no human multi-tasks. Rather, the brain switches very quickly from one task to another. Like having a conversation while checking your news feed while ordering pasta.
multi-tasking leaves us frazzled
The brain does each task one at a time, but it does it so fast it seems like it’s doing all three at once. This would be harmless but for the consequences: each time the brain switches tasks it take milliseconds to invoke a second level of executive functioning.
Bottom line: each time you seemingly multi-task, you are draining available resources.
You end up more stressed and spun out – it drains your overall effectiveness and can leave you feeling empty and unrewarded.
In meditation, when the inevitable distractions comes up (Did I send the rent check? Why won’t she friend me on Facebook? This so so so boring!) and we catch them and gently return to the breath, or body sensations, or sounds, we are slowly training ourselves to focus on one thing at a time.
the power of focus
Focus brings clarity.
Increased focus power and clarity being ease.
Focus, clarity and ease bring contentment.
This week, try to limit your external distractions, because as meditators we already have enough to deal with internally!
When you settle on a time and a place to meditate, turn everything off that can be turned off.
And in daily life try true single-tasking!
You will feel much deeper satisfaction from your commitments, build concentration power and be less frazzled and anxious.
We can do this!
Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.