Multi-Tasking Mindfully

February 6, 2015 by Rabbi Laibl Wolf
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‘Wisdom fads’ I call them. Phrases that go viral across societies – often found wanting in the truth-machine of time.

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

Phrases like ‘energy healing’ or ‘gut reaction’ or becoming an ‘intuitive’. My current bugbear is ‘multi-tasking’.

I venture into this minefield knowing full well that I will earn the ire of entire womanhood. It takes a brave man (or a fool) to slight one of womanhood’s most treasured monopolies. Don’t I know that women are fully proficient in this arena in contrast to us (far) less capable men who are reduced to tortoise-like emasculation of doing things ‘one thing at a time’?

Let me venture where angels fear to tread. What does ‘multi-tasking’ mean? Is it the herculean capacity of washing the dishes, contemporaneously with phone-counselling one’s best friend, sharing the children’s homework load, preparing dinner for gladiator-husband returning victoriously to his castle after slaying the dragons of the day? I mean- really! Don’t women have the benefit of men’s inventive minds such as dishwashers? And surely Helen next door sees a male shrink twice a week anyway, and mothers are not meant to do their children’s homework for them, and yes, I did have a tough day and want my peace and quiet and my morsel of bread.

Agreed, this is the life-view of a truly chauvinistic, boorish, hair-chested and pea-brained male – a view I wish to emphasise that I do not share. (But it felt good writing it anyway! Wonder why?). But I do have some nagging doubts about the efficacy of ‘multi-tasking’. Especially since the latest fad is ‘mindfulness’. Surely Jon Kabat-Zinn and Buddhist empirics testify to the benefits of ‘being in the moment’ , ‘being here now’, ‘living deeply’. So here’s my dilemma: how can I ‘be here now’ and ‘be in the moment’ if I am ‘multi-tasking’ – exquisitely juggling many moments, somewhat less than efficiently or deeply and being ‘here’ and ‘there’ and ‘elsewhere’ all at the same time? Clearly the ‘wisdoms’ of mindfulness and multi-tasking are somewhat at odds with each other.

In the Chabad Hassidic teachings of Kabbala we learn that our minds (Seichel) and emotions (Middot) can only experience one thing at a time. One can only think of one thought at a time or feel one emotion at a time. Yes, we can oscillate quickly between various thoughts and feelings – but only one at a time. But when it comes to actions, e.g. our hands, we have the capability to do two and more things at a time. Just observe a pianist’s right and left hands flowing over the keyboard, the right hand and the left hand doing quite different things –simultaneously. This leads us to an important spiritual understanding: we can ‘multi-task’ with our body but we can only be ‘mindful’ with our head and heart.

Wisdom is knowing when to do which. Some occasions require depth, focus, dedication, singular concentration e.g. when spending quality time with our family at the dinner table, giving due attention to each member as the occasion arises. Other moments require us to be involved in more than one task at a time e.g. listening to a lecture and taking notes – all in a manner that makes sense and can be legible while taking it all in at the same time.

When multi-tasking is truly balanced, we can sometimes experience this as ‘being in the zone’. In this state everything becomes effortless and it can be perfectly natural to be in many places and moments in the same instant. Admittedly these rare and mystical moments of ‘total awareness’ are far and few between. But once experienced, they leave a mark on us for evermore. Might it be that in that magic moment, multi-tasking and mindfulness merge into oneness?

So here is the challenge for the week: multi-task by all means, but do it mindfully!

Rabbi Laibl Wolf is  Dean of  Spiritgrow – The Josef Kryss Center, Australia


One Response to “Multi-Tasking Mindfully”
  1. Eleonora Mostert says:

    Brilliant Rabbi Laibl Wolf, you always give me a smile on my face and sound wisdom to get me through the day.

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