When Time Stands Still
Doing One Thing Well
I used to go on vacation loaded down with equipment. Not only did I pack my golf clubs and bathing suit, I filled a suitcase with books, camera equipment, watercolors and charcoal pencils, knitting, and other items with which to fill any free time. I was raised to see “wasting time” as a character flaw. Every moment was supposed to be used for something “useful.”
Several years ago, however, my husband and I had the privilege of spending some time on the North Shore of Kauai, one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, in a condo with a breathtaking view of Hanalei Bay and the overhanging cliffs, the waterfalls, and pounding surf. Surfers glided down the faces of the waves; green turtles and whales appeared beyond the breakers. One afternoon I settled in on the lanai with a cold drink, a book, and my sketching materials, but found myself captivated by the shifting light and dancing water. When I finally looked up, more than an hour had passed—and it had seemed like only a few seconds.
At that moment, I felt guilty for “wasting time.” But in the years since, as I’ve developed a mindfulness and yoga practice, I’ve learned how important it is to simply be, without distractions—to sit and breathe and be fully present wherever I am. Now I can’t imagine my life without those precious moments of “wasted time.”
For too many people in the 21st century, however, it’s not enough to accomplish one task at a time. Instead, we’ve learned to “multitask”—and we’re proud of it. We talk on our wireless device while driving to work. We keep up with the national news while checking email. We talk to our children while cooking dinner, and help with the homework while folding the laundry. We go out to dinner with our partner but wind up answering text messages over the salad. There is always so much to do, and never enough time in which to do it.
In fact, many of the kids I speak to each week watch their parents being busy and come to an interesting—and discouraging—conclusion: Of all the things their parents do, they sometimes feel like the least important. It’s hard to have a connected, caring conversation with someone who never quite makes eye contact with you.
Don’t get me wrong: Being busy and working hard isn’t wrong. Research has shown clearly that kids don’t mind that their parents work. In fact, children often express pride in what their parents do and are grateful that parents work hard to keep them safe and comfortable. What children don’t like, the researchers tell us, is when their time with their parents feels rushed, when parents are always glancing at the clock before responding.
There’s more, too. It turns out that the human brain is actually not constructed to multitask effectively. If you Google “multitasking and the brain”, you’ll discover numerous studies that show clearly that trying to do several things at once generally means humans do none of them well. You may be able to correct the spelling sheet while cooking dinner, but how often have you burned the vegetables or overcooked the pasta? Or missed the one word your child misspelled? Driving while talking on the phone, even with a hands-free device, causes more accidents than driving without talking. Multitasking at work makes employees less productive. And never setting time aside to simply be with those you love, and to listen patiently without needing to rush off somewhere else, sends unintended messages about your priorities and what matters most to you. It also means that you never get the time you need to rest and recover, to reflect thoughtfully about your life and your goals, and to feel simple gratitude for the blessings you enjoy.
Life goes by so quickly. My biggest regret about raising my own son is not the many mistakes I made, or my own less-than-wonderful parenting decisions. I learned something from every one of them. It’s the fact that I didn’t slow down and just enjoy it more often, that the times I decided in favor of throwing the baseball or going for a bike ride over cleaning the bathroom didn’t happen more often. Real relationships require time and space. Take a deep breath, and slow down. And in case you're wondering, the reason it's been three months since my last blog entry? I've been too busy multitasking.
| Posted by cheryl | Sunday, May 19, 2013|