CBA Record April-May 2019
Y O U N G L A W Y E R S J O U R N A L
Multitasking Multitasking is presented as a solution to a busy, fast-paced life, and even hailed as a required “skill” in the corporate world. Multitasking is an impediment to imple- menting mindfulness. Your mind has a finite amount of attentive capacity at any given moment, and it is impossible to pay 100% of that attention to more than one substantive task at a time. When you attempt two or more tasks simultaneously, each receives a fraction of your full atten- tion. As a result, each task suffers. Mind- fulness, in practice, is closely focusing on a single task. This includes efficiently chang- ing gears between tasks (when interrupted), but not doing more than one at a time, and not being swept away by any thought or emotion accompanying the interruption. A common retort is that there are many situations in which one is doing more than one thing at once, such as having a conversation while driving, or listening to music while reading or studying. But you cannot physiologically be as perceptive or efficient at either task as you could be per- forming each individually. You will increase skill less quickly (if at all) and retain less. If multitasking is practiced habitually, then you will train your brain to learn in an inferior way. The brain physically changes to adjust to the way your body receives information. Other parts not designed for memory and analytical thinking will begin to compensate for your divided attention. The long-term results are a shorter atten- tion span and diminished capacity to focus and perform deeply analytical tasks. For a lawyer, that’s a death knell. Mindfulness is akin to the old adage of a tree falling in the woods—if no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? It does, and mindfulness works in the same way. When you pay close attention in the moment, the other distracting stimuli in the form of your ruminating mind will still arise, but you simply will not notice them because your attention is directed elsewhere. All of your inner thoughts are involuntary—you cannot shut them off in the moment once you are aware they have arisen, but you can choose whether or not to pay attention to them once you
tration, your confidence, your strength. Obtaining oxygen and discharging carbon dioxide is the body’s highest priority. As such, the mind cannot be focused if the breath is not aligned, and the mind dictates everything thereafter. If the mind is unfo- cused, everything else is negatively affected. Mindfulness can be defined, in the simplest sense, as attentive, deliberate, and non-judgmental observation of each momentary occurrence. Perhaps the key component you may struggle with is being non-judgmental of your thoughts. The idea is to accept your thoughts and neither strive for pleasant ones nor recoil from unpleasant ones. It is essentially nothing more than paying attention closely. Many are unfamiliar or have forgotten how to do this because of, among other things, the speed of life at any point in time. Mindfulness can also be understood as a disconnection between one’s self and one’s thoughts. A classic contemplative phrase is “you are not your thoughts.” With mindfulness, there is no demand to accept any type of belief system, religious or otherwise. The goal, for lack of a better word, is simply to free the mind from suf- fering and to enjoy a conscious experience undisturbed by worry. Inversely, when you are being mindful, you are are actively not ruminating. That is, you are not thinking about anything other than the present moment. Rumina- tion can be thought of as lurching from one thought to the next, constantly pre- occupied with the past or future. When you ruminate, you are distracted from the present moment, lost in thought. It is not only the thoughts themselves that are dis- tracting, but the emotions that they invoke. The key is to recognize that a thought is just a thought, without being swept away by the thought’s contents. It has been shown that the more the mind wanders, the more depressed one becomes. This is not to say you should never think about the past or future (even a little daydreaming here and there is healthy), but that this form of thinking should play a very minor role in your overall attention.
have acknowledged them (leading to the perception they have disappeared when they have actually just been deprived of your attention). It is like watching the train go by instead of getting on it. A step beyond mindfulness moment- to-moment is meditation. Meditation can be thought of as mindfulness practiced at its highest level of engagement. At first, it is ideal to be in solitude with as few distractions as possible. Try sitting alone comfortably, eyes closed, with no TV, phone, music, or other noise so your full attention can be paid to the character of your thoughts. As your meditation skill progresses, you will find that virtually noth- ing is actually distracting—just about any stimulus, internal or external, can be the subject of your attention. When first start- ing a meditation practice, headphones for guided meditation or earplugs to block out ambient noise can be helpful. The thought of this can seem daunting. A prominent leader in this area has made this analogy: inside of a high-security prison full of vio- lent criminals, the worst punishment for an inmate is solitary confinement—inmates actually prefer being around violent crimi- nals to being alone. Meditation encourages you to welcome the experience of being alone with your thoughts, not to be terri- fied of it. The benefits of a mindful life and a mediation practice are invaluable, but, like any other learned skill, both require persistent training in order to realize. A common misconception is that meditation immediately will bring some kind of trans- gressional, enlightened state of mind. This is not realistic. If you have not worked out in months, you certainly would not expect to have a six-pack or run a six-minute mile after a couple of gym sessions. The same is true for mindfulness and meditation. After a fewmeditation sessions, you should begin to notice the general principles described so far, but you will not see a drastic mental overhaul. Even if you never meditate, being mindful is practicing to a degree—you are practicing in each moment attentively experiencing the world (as opposed to being lost in your thoughts about it). After a few months of regular meditation train-
CBA RECORD 45
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