Sunday, November 8, 2009

Managing Busyness

On Wednesday at the newspaper, I was having a severe case of losing my place every few moments. I would be working away on the computer, building a page. Then I would think, "Oh, I have to get that information from the internet." I would switch to my browser, only to stare at in confusion, unable to remember why I had opened it. I would sit for a few minutes, remember that I was double-checking a date the school's website, and select the link. As the page was loading, I would think, "Oh, right, I can't forget to add the Garden Club announcement to the calendar page." I would open that screen, and then the phone would ring. I'd take a garage sale ad from one of our subscribers, then turn my attention back to the opened calendar page - and once again, I'd be completely unable to remember why I was there.

When I get in that frenetic pace, it is the exact opposite of sitting zazen. Meditating, I am calm, aware and focused, even when the focus is "not focus." At work, though, all of that seems to go out the window, and I am flying like a maniac from one task to the next. I get less and less efficient the faster I go, yet am seemingly unable to halt the mania.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about this "busyness" factor in my "Slow Down? Or Speed Up?" entry, wondering how exactly I am to deal with my overloaded life. Darlene Cohen, one of my teachers, wrote in a comment suggesting that I take a look at her book, The One Who Is Not Busy: Connecting with Work in a Deeply Satisfying Way. I own a copy - but I've been too busy to read it!

I pulled it down off the shelf today, and already there is helpful information. Darlene talks about the importance of mental flexibility and shifting the mind's focus at will from one thing to another. In other words, you bring your full attention to one task (like talking to a client on the phone), then you shift attention and bring your attention fully to that next task (like creating a new document on the computer), and so on, throughout the work day, and into your family life, where you narrow your focus to the objects of preparing food, eating dinner, taking care of children, etc.

Darlene talks about this "narrowing of focus" as a practice in "simultaneous inclusion," where life is both this moment, right here, this task, and at the same time it is eternity, everywhere, everything. She refers to this kind of attention as being that of feeling "what is before us is the whole world," saying, "When we sink deeply into our activity, whatever that activity is, everything is simultaneously included at the same time. The grief we once felt over a life incompletely lived, squandered on the demands of others and trivial chores, is transformed into a deep feeling of fulfillment and a flexibility up to meeting any stimulus."

Later in the book, Darlene has exercises on how to cultivate that skill of "simultaneous inclusion." The practice is very Zen, but also very mundanely practical, very much of this world, this place, this time.

So for myself, I am going to keep reading the book, and begin tomorrow practicing some of these tips. I am very much looking forward to a relief from the busyness, and a move towards integrated wholeness. We'll see if it works!

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