In my never-ending quest to simplify my life, I’ve found this book that is currently rocking my world. It’s The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski. I’ve only read the first two chapters, but I’ve been mentally and spiritually digesting those two chapters for the past week. In a nutshell, The Sacred Year is about Yankoski being intentional with incorporating spiritual practices into his life. The second chapter, “Single Tasking: The Practice of Attentiveness,” grabbed me by my shirt collar and hasn’t let me go since.
Yankoski discusses the art of “juggling.” We’re all pros at “juggling,” giving our half-hearted attention to all of the things demanding it in our lives – work, friends, family, television, social networks, emails, meetings, etc. He quotes Tolkien in saying that he is “like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” Don’t we all feel like that sometimes? In the deepest parts of our minds, we’re juggling decisions, plans, questions, answers, daydreams. In the quiet moments, things are rarely quiet upstairs. In any given moment, I’m thinking of twelve different things. And having the imagination that I possess, I can go from planning tonight’s dinner to trying to figure out why Diet Coke takes forever to settle at 30,000 ft in a moment’s notice. And that’s just what’s going on in my brain.
Let’s talk about the impulse to constantly check social media. It’s embarrassing to say, but it’s the first thing I do when I wake up. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email. And indeed, it is the last thing that I do before falling asleep. There are many a night when I fall asleep reading Reddit.
The sad thing is…I know that I’m not the only one. Constantly connected, yet so disconnected at the same time.
When was the last time that you had a face-to-face conversation with someone and made a point of giving them your undivided attention?
What about when there’s a silent moment or two in a conversation? Do you reach for your phone for comfort?
I asked myself these questions after reading “Single Tasking: The Practice of Attentiveness.” And the answers were hard to admit to myself.
Yankoski says that the term “pay attention” is really a misguided command. Instead, it should be “be attentive,” as “attentiveness is not something you can buy at any price but rather something you must become.” Yankoski goes on later in the chapter to describe an apple that he spent an hour focusing on. Yes, he spent an hour locked in a room with a red apple. He took in the apple with all five of his senses and his descriptions of this apple made me feel like I could visualize this apple in front of me. He spent an hour focusing on something that he’d probably seen hundreds of times throughout his life, but had never really seen. He discovered characteristics of an apple that he’d previously disregarded.
I took it upon myself this afternoon to spend time single tasking – doing one thing at a time and doing that one thing being fully attentive and aware. I went to my favourite coffee shop. I ordered a mug of black coffee and settled down at a table. I ate a salad that I brought. I read a letter that my sponsored child wrote me. I wrote a letter back. I drank some of the coffee. I reread the second chapter of The Sacred Year. I wrote in my journal. I finished the coffee.
I did all of these things as single tasks. I didn’t have my earphones in at all – partially because I didn’t want music to interfere with my single tasking…partially because I think it’s a bit silly to listen to my music when the coffee shop was playing some pretty excellent music. I put my phone in my handbag and didn’t touch it the entire 1.5 hours I was at that table.
The result of intentionally single tasking? That mug of coffee tasted SO GOOD. I have to be in the mood for black coffee, so I don’t drink it often. But this mug of coffee was wonderful. I was able to taste the complexities of the blend. I bet it probably would’ve tasted a bit different if I hadn’t been attentive. I noticed a bunch of different things about the coffeeshop that I’d never noticed before. The colours (especially the abundance of reds), the arrangement of furniture, the people, even the mug that I was using. I came away from the coffee shop more appreciative of it than before.
This journey to simplification and being attentive has been developing a lot recently, even before I started reading The Sacred Year. While on holiday in England with my husband a week ago, we visited Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. In the middle of taking pictures, I got frustrated with myself. I wasn’t allowing myself to fully enjoy the sights because I had a camera or an iPhone attached to my hand.
My hope is that I can become more attentive and less attached to social media. I can find more to appreciate in the small, seemingly insignificant details of my everyday life. I can give another person my undivided attention without reaching for my phone the second there’s a lull in the conversation. I can visit a place without “checking in” on Swarm or Facebook. I can have a funny thought to myself without the urge to Tweet it. I can enjoy a beautiful sunset without reaching for my phone to take a picture that will only pale in comparison to the real deal.
This is my invitation to all of you to do two things: realize where you can be more attentive and work on unplugging and becoming more aware of life going on all around you.
Here’s to living a more attentive and thus more fulfilling life,