Can I have your attention please? Do you see our gardener in the picture, at the Anantara Resort in Thailand? He is very focused on his task -- creating a beautiful floating flower arrangement. Not a cell phone in one hand, palm pilot in the other, nor iPod buds in his ears.
I was just reading this NY Times article about multitasking. It did, of course, point out the dangers of distraction of multitasking while driving, or even just crossing the road. And then it went on to try and quantify from a business perspective the impact of letting yourself be interrupted by e-mail. (Yawn. Why must it always be about business.)
But I found this quote rather fascinating:
The human brain, with its hundred billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections, is a cognitive powerhouse in many ways. “But a core limitation is an inability to concentrate on two things at once,” said René Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University.
Think about that for a minute. We have all heard and perhaps taken for granted that we underutilize our brains. That they are capable of much more than we ask of them. But perhaps, that is much more focused awareness on a single moment. And the next.
Now clearly our brain-body has multiple processing sections. It keeps our heart beating, our lungs breathing, and the rest of our autonomic nervous system running beautifuly in the background while our conscious mind is left free to ponder the next big thing.
But isn't that your experience? That at any moment, your conscious mind is only (can only be) focused on one thing at a time. That's the central processor that is controlling your perception of the Now moment.
And one more thing. If you want to really blow your mind, you can actually stop your thoughts entirely. No, not by sleeping ;-) But by being very accutely and actively aware. Try this experiement.
In a calm, quiet location, after sitting quietly for a while (meditate if you know how), place all of your awareness toward "Speak, I am listening". Don't think about that thought, but rather, actively set your mind to be "listening". Not your ears, but your mind. This conscious awareness of "Speak, I am listening" forestalls your own thoughts as you rest in awareness.
In the beginning, you will be lucky to get a few moments of thought-free time. Your mind will take over and begin its cogitation. But over time, you can extend this period, and then learn to just release each of your thoughts as they arise, and return to the awareness "speak, I am listening".
And so what? Only this: you will actually see your own thoughts arise. And when you do, you will realize that the thinker and the Seer are not the same. It is a peek into a wonderous reality, but we will save that discussion for another time. (You can read more about some aspects of a related experience in a previous blog entry.)
In the meantime, just realize that your conscious mind focuses on one moment at a time. And this is entirely consistent with Life, which is lived only Now. And Now. And Now.