By John Pendall
My appointment is at 3 o’clock and it takes half an hour to get there.
Right now it’s 2:17. I’m a professional procrastinator so I still have to get in the shower, brush my teeth, and get dressed. How can I possibly make it there on time? Why do I get myself into these situations? What’s wrong with me? Darn, I just spent two minutes thinking about those questions. There’s no time for me to feel bad about myself; I’ve got to kick it into gear! Whoops, there goes another minute…
We’ve all been there. Well, that’s a blanket statement so guess I’ll rephrase it as, “Most of us have been there.” Alright, that feels better. The opening paragraph for this column is based on actual events. The only difference is that none of those thoughts were zipping around. Shower, brush, dress, go. No stress, no worries—just being.
Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, and Taoism encourage us to be mindful and do things one at a time. This isn’t always possible in our fast-paced dysfunctional society. I’m also far too stubborn to give up my Ph.D. in procrastination. Yet even if I stopped procrastinating, situations would still arise that demand me to be quick and multi-task.
I don’t have to sacrifice mindfulness to multi-task; I don’t have to be frantic to be swift.
In fact, if I’m mindful while multi-tasking, it seems like all activity becomes an exhilarating flow. The same is true if I move quickly but efficiently. Bending, reaching, grabbing, scrubbing, drying, dressing, driving—these activities can become a delightful stream of motion. Everything seems to go smoothly if I’m mindful of sensation rather than getting lost in the la-la land of wandering thoughts.
Have you ever seen a martial arts tournament? They are swift, precise, and agile. It’s entirely possible to approach ordinary tasks with that same fluid swiftness, precision, and agility.
In the martial arts tournament of life, my only opponent is myself. Crikey, that was a cheesy line. It’s like something I’d find in a fortune cookie or the Deepak Chopra New Age platitudes generator. Anyway, when I’m in a hurry, maintaining peace of mind is all about focusing on sensation. If I put my attention on seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching then I can get into a groove. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow I’m moving, what matters is how focused I am on what’s happening right now.
If I can apply this clarity and attention to everyday actions, then there’s little difference between walking and running to the mind; little difference between doing just one thing and multi-tasking. Whether the flow is fast or slow, it’s still just the flow, you know?
By the way, I made it to the appointment on time.
P.S. I find it helps to hum, whistle, or scat random melodies while in a mindful rush as well. Not sure why this seems to help. Maybe it keeps the nay-saying mind being occupied while we do what needs to be done.
Editor: Dana Gornall
John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”
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