I’m trying to live intentionally. By this, I mean I’m working on being “in the moment,” mindful of my thoughts and actions. I say “working on” – mindfulness is not easy for me. I can be very distractible, prone to nervous habits like nail biting. Although I no longer bite my fingernails, it’s a good example.
It’s impossible to be a nail biter if one is mindful. Activities like that are things we do when we are unaware, preoccupied with stressful, anxiety-provoking thoughts. I suggest that no one sits down and says, “I’m going to bite my nails until my fingers bleed.” Rather, they gnaw away while thinking of something entirely unrelated, then look down and say, “Oh, darn. I’ve done it again.”
Think of all the elements of our daily routine that we do mindlessly. It’s staggering. Not all these things are bad things: We unplug the coffee maker. We lock the door on the way out. We brush our teeth. Often we can’t specifically remember doing any of these things. We presume we did because we always do. It’s habit, routine.
Habits are useful and make space for lots of abstract thinking. While I’m mindlessly making breakfast, I’m envisioning a flyer I’m designing for a client’s business or working on a poem I’ve been turning over and over in my mind, smoothing it out like a tumbled stone. I love multitasking; it accommodates both my busy mind and my busy life. Sometimes I wonder, though: does it make me more productive or just distracted?
Multitasking involves doing at least one of the activities at hand by rote (i.e., mindlessly). Is this really a good idea? Or is even the smallest activity, like making toast for breakfast, worthy of my full attention?
I’m not suggesting standing in the kitchen and watching the toast as it browns, thinking of nothing but toast and its toastiness. I don’t think I could do that. But perhaps I could be in the kitchen, thinking about breakfast, puttering over the dishes or browsing cookbooks while I wait for the toast. This might not be wasted time, and it might prevent trips to the refrigerator where I open it and entirely forget what I was looking for in the first place. Sound familiar?
I believe there is much more value to mindfulness than we give credit in our overachieving society, where children are rewarded for perfect attendance and adults are encouraged to “power through” fatigue, illness, and tragedy. What if how we do things were as important as how many things we accomplish and the nature of our achievements?
Maybe there are no small moments, and maybe the spaces between things are as important as the things themselves. Yes, maybe there is something to be said for doing things – even small things – deliberately, intentionally, one at a time. And doing them well.