Friday, March 30, 2012

saving my life: chopping a carrot.

{photo by Nina Leen}

I am a notorious multi-tasker.

My computer has at least five tabs open at all times. There is music playing softly in the background. My planner is open to my left, my phone to my right. There are post-it note lists all reminding of the things that need doing: one for the weekend, one for the week, one for my Tuesday afternoon, one for new music to listen to, one for the books I've read thus far this month (the total is at five).

I accomplish a lot during a day. I work and edit and write from 8 to 5:30. During the slower hours at work, I compose blog posts or make to do lists or go over my week. I respond to emails and check Twitter. On my drive home, I call my mom. I arrive home and check the mail and cook dinner and take a walk, and most of that I do with my phone or computer within reach. We eat dinner, sometimes in front of the TV, sometimes not. I watch TV while I work on a graphic design project or do our laundry. I wash my face and brush my teeth in front of an episode of The Office or How I Met Your Mother.

My life is bombarded by noise, and last week, I read this article referencing the words of a Buddhist monk: “When you are chopping a carrot,” he said, “be chopping a carrot.”

It's sad that I would even need to be told that, isn't it, sad that we need to be reminded not to text while we drive or to stop emailing one person while we talk on the phone to another?

Last week at book club, we were discussing Crossing to Safety and the seemingly much simpler life those characters led, and my friend commented that perhaps technology had devolved us a bit, perhaps so much of this technology is so new that we don't quite know what to do with it just yet, and so we mess up. We are inept. We are trying to use it for too much, too often.

So on Thursday, I kept one Internet tab open. While I was editing articles, I didn't have Gmail open in the background. When I was checking my email, I wasn't simultaneously checking my Twitter. I didn't listen to music (despite the jackhammer next door). I didn't text at stoplights or call my mom while I drove. I went for a walk to the mailbox and didn't bring my phone. I watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother and didn't try to do something else at the same time. I cooked without a screen nearby.

It was so simple.

When you're chopping a carrot, chop a carrot.

I've tried to bring that principle into this week. I only read one blog post at a time, and I immediately comment if I want to comment, rather than leaving it open in one of my neverending Internet tabs. When I talk to my mom, I only talk to my mom. When I talk to Jordan, I only talk to Jordan. When I do one thing, I try to be fully present. Just one thing at a time. 

Sometimes, of course, I slip. That's okay. Like with everything else, I'm trying.

For Lent, Jordan and I instituted one night a week as "screen-free." We still leave the lights on, but there's no TV, no computer, no phone, no chores. It's quiet, and the evening seems to last longer. We go to bed a little earlier.

The life we're leading doesn't always feel simple or quiet.

But turning off the noise, even in the tiniest of ways?

That is salvation.

It's reminding me that multitask as I may, I've only got once chance to do this right. I would really hate it if one day it all went away, and I realized all along I'd been distracted.

More on saving my life starts here.


Kristin said...

Yes, yes, YES! Why in the world are we so distracted all the time?! Going to deal with (and close) all the tabs I have open right now :-).

ashleycartwright said...

Love it, as a mom to 3 little ones, teaching full time and being mommy and wife, I multi-task too often. Going to try to put this screen down more starting now! Thanks again for your inspiration.

Sabrina said...

As a society we are too plugged in. I am working on this as well. Like you can save your life. If you want even more of these thoughts...about being aware and mindful, then read the meditation how to book Wherever You go There you Are. It's a slow read but pretty amazing.

Rachael L. Anderson said...

I like your "screen-free" night! My husband and I are going to have a one night a week only listen to music and no TV.

This article reminds me of the Jim Elliot quote, "Wherever you are, be all there."

Betsy said...

Annie, thank you so much for this post--I desperately needed to hear (or read?) it. I'm quite the multi-tasker myself, and I've lately come to the observation that multi-tasking, though productive at times, usually eclipses the little joys in life and leaves me feeling quasi-robotic. I need to slow down and simply enjoy the little moments, however mundane they may appear. Thank you for reminding me to do that!

Anonymous said...

This sounds exactly like my life. As I look to the top of my screen, there are 8 tabs open... 2 have been open for a week for me to go back to. I am proud to say that I am consciously "chopping a carrot" when I am with my friends or family. I've always found that to be super important. However, I love your idea of "screen-free" nights - brilliant. Simple, yet effective. I'm sure I'll have to write it on a post-it to make it happen, but it's a must.