We don’t have running water in the orto (where the goats, chickens, and several fruit trees live), but we do have a hose that runs from our cantina over there.
When we first put the animals in the orchard, I hated Water Day, i.e., those mornings every few days when I’d turn on the hose from the basement, walk to the orchard, and then clean and refill all the various water containers, including a couple dozen empty bottles that would help me do the cleaning, watering, and refilling in between Water Days.
What a freaking chore, I’d think, on those mornings.
I’d will the water to flow faster since I can’t actually turn up the pressure; the hose is put together in sections and will blow apart halfway to the orchard if the pressure is too high. Yes, I know this from experience. Ahem.
So I’d spend that half hour making the day’s to-do list, mentally composing all the e-mail responses I could be typing if only it weren’t Water Day. I’d flip the hose violently around from spot to spot, often drenching myself in the process. FYI trying to do anything faster with a hose in your hand is not recommended.
Then I read The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
I know many of you also appreciate this Buddhist monk’s writings, but for those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, please get a copy of something, anything he’s written immediately; I do recommend starting with his thoughts on mindfulness:
Each act is a rite, a ceremony. Raising your cup of tea to your mouth is a rite. Does the word “rite” seem too solemn? I use that word in order to jolt you into the realization of the life-and-death matter of awareness.
One of the examples Nhat Hanh uses is washing dishes. I don’t know about you, but washing dishes falls somewhere in the realm of root canal on my Pleasure Scale. So when Nhat Hanh kept stressing how important it is to really pay attention while washing dishes, I didn’t know if I could *ever* get the hang of this mindfulness thing. Then came this line:
“I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath.”
And something clicked for me.
I’m not religious, but the idea that each and every thing we do should be done as if it were of the utmost importance has stayed with me. The concept that we should concentrate, focus, and be mindful of each swipe of the sponge around the teapot — or of each drop of water that falls into the bottle — made so much sense.
Once I stopped focusing on the time I was “wasting,” I began to appreciate and even cherish my time spent filling water bottles.
Now I look forward to Water Day to have those extra morning moments, drinking in the sounds of birds chirping and the goats munching on their hay and the sight of the chickens scrambling for a taste of fresh water. In small groups, the birds chase the little streams that form when I move the hose from spot to spot, and they especially enjoy sipping from a little dish where I rest the hose in between filling water containers. The dish sits at the base of our huge lemon tree — assuring no water is wasted on Water Day.
So yes, Water Day has become special for me as I provide nourishment to creatures who in turn give us nourishment — and I’m even entertained in the process. To me, this is what being mindful is all about. Really paying attention to everything you do, while you’re doing it, and stopping your mind from wandering off to other places that have nothing to do with the task at hand.
It’s been amazing for me to realize just how much more I get accomplished simply by focusing on each task, on its own.
In other words, multitasking is the enemy.
Multitasking prevents, nay prohibits, the essential concentration and focus that allows me to complete tasks effectively, efficiently, and with fewer mistakes. Have you ever carelessly cut your hand while washing dishes because you unthinkingly thrust your hand into the soapy water and met a knife blade on the way? That’s less likely to happen if you’re focused and concentrated on each plate, glass, and piece of silverware — and especially if you’re not just hurrying through the task so you can check another item off your to-do list.
Something else interesting has also happened thanks to mindfulness:
Being present in the moment has led to innovation.
Once I gave Water Day the importance and appreciation it deserved, my mind was open to figuring about how to become more efficient. When I accepted that just because I wasn’t doing five things simultaneously didn’t mean I wasn’t getting anything done, I could focus on what was before me and improve upon my technique, making that time even more productive and valuable.
The new method? It starts with non-Water Days as I use up the water in the bottles. I put the empties back in the crate upside down to be able to tell the full bottles from the empty ones at a glance; this avoids frustratingly choosing empty bottle after empty bottle when I just need to fill the goats’ bucket. The sight of all the upside down bottles also makes it abundantly clear that it’s time for another Water Day.
When Water Day arrives, I flip all the bottles right side up in the crate and remove all the lids at once so I can just stand over them with the hose and refill them, directing the hose to one, then the next, and so forth. Sounds simple, but I used to gather some empties, squat to the level of the hose, remove a lid, fill a bottle while holding it, cap it, putting it aside, and repeat to fill every bottle, one by one, and then walking them to their crate home a few at a time, back and forth. Believe me, my back thanks me for the new technique.
Then when all the bottles are filled, lids are replaced two at a time (one with each hand) while the goats’ water bucket is being filled by the hose at my side. Orderly, productive, and best of all, calm — no rush whatsoever. Mindful efficiency.
So do all these wonderful realizations and routines mean I’m successful at being mindful all the time? Hardly, but that’s why they call it practice.
The more you put a new theory, a new belief into practice, the deeper it becomes ingrained in you. And indeed, I’ve noticed that on my way to mindfulness, it’s becoming mindless. I no longer *always* have to force myself to focus on the task at hand; it’s slowly becoming second nature for my mind to stay firmly planted on whatever I’m doing and not to wander too far off. I’m more relaxed, I don’t feel nearly as overwhelmed as I once did, and I’m accomplishing so much more by paying close attention to what I’m doing.
Maybe you’re thinking, but I don’t have the *time* to be mindful! I have X kids/work X hours a week/a gazillion errands to run/etc. I don’t pretend to know your exact challenges, but I assure you I absolutely thought the same thing — that I’d be “wasting” time if I “only” did one thing at once. So on that, I refer you back to Nhat Hanh:
Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully each minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live.
I urge you to at least give mindfulness a try for a day, a week, a month. It might be challenging at first depending on how many things you’re *usually* doing at once, but as I said, it gets easier and more natural. And, hey, if you don’t like the results, you can always go back to multitasking your heart out. But if you do find that mindfulness works for you, please share the idea with others. I can’t help but believe that the more mindful individuals there are in the world, the better off we’ll all be.
Do you practice mindfulness?
Do you have a chores/obligation that could benefit from increased focus and a change in perspective about its importance?