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Lions Roar : May 2014
we take in while multitasking is harder to retrieve later than infor- mation we take in while concentrating. That is why learning to be a unitasker in a multitasking world is so vital. Rather than divide our attention, it is far more effective to take frequent breaks between intervals of sustained, one-pointed atten- tion. A Web designer named Brian figured this out for himself with no knowledge of neuroscience. “I work for a community news site and have to be online from nine to five,” Brian says. “It can really fry the brain and get tedious. I’ve found that if I take ten minutes or so for every hour of work to do something for myself, like read somebody’s blog or take a walk, it helps me concentrate when I turn back to my duties.” Although this may sound difficult, Brian’s increased focus enables him to return to the task at hand with surprising ease. “Instead of hopping from thing to thing— which is so tempting with the Internet—I focus on what’s in front of me. Then I let myself dillydally to give my brain a rest. When it comes to work, less is definitely more in terms of feeling satisfied. And efficient.” While this may sound counterintuitive, relaxing our focus for regular intervals and pacing our sustained concen- tration sharpens attention and renders the mind more flexible. Debunking the myth of multitasking, we become much bet- ter at what we do and increase the chance of being able to re- member the details of work we have done in the past. The Pauses That Refresh Us Being more in touch with our motivations or intentions will reveal a lot about the ethical dimension of our actions. Before a conversation, pause for a few moments to determine what you would most like to come out of it. Do you want most to be seen as right or as helpful? Do you want to foster progress or hinder it? Also pause before sending an email, with the same reflection: What do I most want to see come from this communication? The other party to feel diminished or encouraged? Them to go away or increase their involvement in my project? And do the same thing before a specific choice or decision—What do I most want to see as the outcome? Peace or excitement? Ease or stimulation? you don’t need to condemn what you see or de- cide you’ll always see the same thing inside yourself, like a fixed characteristic, but try to become more sensitive to what is moti- vating you in this moment before you speak or act. One Thing at a Time In this meditation, we try to be more fully present with every component of a single activity. At a time when you’re not likely to be distracted or disturbed by obligations, make yourself some tea. Fill the teakettle slowly, listening to the changing tone of the water as the level rises, the bubbling as it boils, the hissing of steam, the whistle of the pot. Slowly measure loose tea into a strainer, place it in the pot, and inhale the fragrant vapor as it steeps. Feel the heft of the pot and the smooth receptivity of the cup. Continue the meditation as you reach for a cup: Observe its color and shape and the way it changes with the color of the tea. Put your hands around it and feel its warmth. As you lift it, feel the gentle exertion in your hand and forearm. Hear the tea faintly slosh as you lift the cup. Inhale the scented steam and ex- perience the smoothness of the cup on your lips, the light mist on your face, the warmth or slight scald of the first sip on your tongue. Taste the tea; what flavor do you detect? Notice any leaf bits on your tongue, the sensation of swallowing, the warmth traveling the length of your throat. Feel your breath against the cup creating a tiny cloud of steam. Feel yourself put the cup down. Focus on each separate step in the drinking of tea. ♦ 1. As you sit down to work, scan the sensations in your body, from your head to your feet. Notice areas of tension and breathe into them. 2. Nourish yourself! Eat a meal mindfully, noticing the colors, the flavors, the textures of what you are eating. 3. Try to perform a simple, conscious act of kindness every day. It can be as simple as holding an elevator door or saying thank you in a sincere manner. 4. Mentally acknowledge those who have helped you learn the skills you have, who have taught you to be better at your job. We are all part of a larger web. 5. Notice how you are holding something in your hand—a pencil or a cup, for instance. Sometimes we exert so much force holding things it exacerbates tension without our realizing it. 6. Every time you feel bored, pay more attention to the moment. Are you listening carefully or are you multitasking? 7. Read an entire email twice before composing a response. 8. Travel to work some days without your iPod, book, or phone. Experience the transition to work as a journey. 9. For an upcoming one-on-one conversation, resolve to listen more and speak less. ♦ 9 tips for Stealth Meditation at Work SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 61