MULTITASKING, MANTRA, AND MINDFULNESS
Transcending discursive thought seemed to have everything to do with "attention." After returning to work at the ad agency, I developed the habit of taking a long walk to the deli on my lunch break and was made aware of taking each step with extreme attention. Years later, I found it is called "walking meditation," a practice in Zen traditions. But, I had confused "focus" with "mindfulness."
In driving the car, taking a meal, even washing the dishes attention to only what I was doing became the tacit instruction from consciousness. At first, it was refreshing. Meals became more pleasurable and tasty. I found the slow motion pace that this focus required was equally refreshing. I began to enter a protected reality. It lasted only a year or two; then the novelty wore off.
Before it wore off, I reified that notion of attention or mindfulness as: "If I am supposed to do something," it would be "to do whatever I am doing" and that makes one tacitly ask themselves "what is it 'I' am doing." If driving a car, think driving , don't think about work at the office or listen to a radio talk show. Sounds severe, but that was the received instruction about enjoying life in mindfulness.
The "instruction" or you can simply call it "realization" is: " No one can actually do more than one thing or think one thought at a time." "At a time" is the key phrase. Left to its own devices, the mind "toggles" at nanosecond speed between "trains of thought and trains of doing." I became acutely aware of the tension behind this rapid toggling and how it obscures awareness of the joy otherwise inherent in life.
I later found a tolerable or acceptable level of multitasking at a much slower switching speed and with a mindful "stop" before getting on the next "train." Using the example of doing driving, the "stop" is taken quite literally. In the case of doing the dishes the worse that can happen is that you drop a dish. Whereas, in driving, toggling without a mindful stop can prove: "gee the air bags do work".
Of course safety is not the instruction. The realization is: "The pleasure of and in existence, in life, in the body, is to simply do what you are doing." Not gleefully wholeheartedly but simply: mindfully. The trick then is to relax the impulse to switch doing while still engaged in a previous doing. Where "I" got confused was in accurately comprehending what "doing" means. I found it requires "free" attention.
I found it impossible to maintain the joy of attention "by effort." What focus I could maintain became stressful, and the necessary slowing down to maintain the joy became intolerable in the rushed environment of a professional ad agency and, eventually, even in a slower paced life. In any case, I gave it up! I let go of what I was sure then and now is an important and enlightened way to live.
Many years later when I found the wisdom teachings about "mindfulness" and "meditation," I realized my "attention" practice failed because I confused the effort of conventional attention with the effortlessness of "free attention," otherwise called "mindfulness." I love the saying: "Meditation is not what you think." Similarly: mindfulness is not a full mind. Both are simply: doing what you are doing. "
Next Appendix (#6)