Multitasking and Focus
Multitasking – doing two or more activities at once – has become part of our way of doing things. Work and play blur. Our friends can reach us on our work email address at ten o’clock in the morning, while our boss can reach us on our mobile phone at ten o’clock at night. We can do our weekly shopping sitting at our desk and we can handle a work query in the queue at the supermarket.
Sometimes we begin to feel like our life is one long to-do list with work that we will never complete. We worry that between our family, our work, our home, our spiritual practice and our endless commitments, we are defined by our inability to get all of it done. To fight this feeling we often react by trying to do multiple things at once, with the result that we do not do anything well and are too easily swept up in waves of anxiety and worry.
There is no easy way to completely avoid multitasking, but we must guard against too much of it. The reason is simple: it is difficult for a person to do two things at the same time equally well. Our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time, and bombarding them with too much information at one time only slows them down.
Why is multitasking relevant to spirituality? Because focus is important in our spiritual life. To be truly spiritually alive, to have spiritual vitality, we need to have a laser-like focus. If we are not focused, we are not getting done what truly needs to get done.
Meditation requires focus, but perhaps we are in the habit of doing “lazy” meditation. We just go through the motions, without focus and without love. We resent getting up early in the morning. We watch the clock, waiting for our shift to end. Oftentimes our two and a half hours come to an end and we can honestly not recall having done even five consistent rounds of simran. So achieving that focus is very hard. Great Master is clear about the best way to reach and to hold the attention at the eye centre. He writes in Spiritual Gems:
That method is the same as all the saints use, which is simply the concentrated attention held firmly at the given centre. What else can we say? It is all a matter of unwavering attention.… Every ray of attention must be centred there and held there. If one strays away for a time, one has lost the advantage. It may be said safely that if any earnest student should hold his attention fully upon the given centre for three hours, without wavering, he must go inside.
So there we have it – just three hours of focusing the attention at the eye centre will allow us to go inside. Just three hours. But Great Master goes on to admit that this can be difficult:
But that is not so easy without long practice. However, by and by, the mind becomes accustomed to staying in the centre. It rebels less and less, and finally yields to the demand to hold the centre. Then your victory is won.… It is a matter of will to hold to the centre, also not to forget nor allow the attention to go off after some other thought or experiences. Make the spirit, instead of the mind, the commander of the situation.
And this brings us to the heart of the difficulty. The trouble, Great Master says, lies with the mind:
The mind is tricky and will run out if permitted. Conquer it. But to conquer it is not easy, of course, and it takes time. The problem is not complicated at all. The whole thing is just attention, and then unbroken attention, at the eye centre, allowing no other thought to intrude itself into the consciousness and lead you away from the centre.… This was the method by which I won my way inside and it is the method by which you must win your way.
We do find that in our daily lives there are various external triggers which force us to focus, which prove that the mind is capable of a high degree of concentration when necessary. For instance, we may be faced with a life-threatening situation, an emergency that demands all our attention; or we may miss a deadline at work or an assignment due at university or school, which will result in us failing if it is not handed in on time. But when it comes to meditation, there is nothing external that is forcing this focus upon us.
Given the difficulty of achieving a high level of concentration and focus in meditation, what is required to attain success is persistence and perseverance, which stem from obedience, love, devotion and the desire to please our Master. If we are devoted and we really long to please him, we will try all the harder to focus at the eye centre.
On the spiritual path, we sometimes get hung up on the idea of success or failure, and we allow our lack of understanding to get in the way of persistence. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Maharaj Charan Singh Ji defines “failure”, and in doing so he shows us its value:
Failure means that I have done my best to attend to meditation, but I couldn’t succeed. Failure doesn’t mean that I never attended to meditation. That is not failure – that is not even attempting. Failure means I have done my best, I have given my time, I have lived the way of life while I have been trying to build my treasure. From every point of view I have been keeping myself clean, but I have not achieved anything within myself.… Our attempt is there, our efforts are there, but the results are not in our hands. From that point of view we can say that we have failed, but that is no failure.
Even from a worldly perspective, perseverance in the face of so-called failure is essential. Success can be achieved only through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents perhaps one percent of our work, while 99 percent we call failure. When we are committed to accomplishing a goal, we naturally make continual effort, even when we do not achieve immediate success. That one percent and that 99 percent are both valuable, and we cannot have one without the other. We should not confuse perseverance and effort with success or failure. The persistent effort to meditate should never cease.
We tend to avoid confronting the obvious truth that the clock is ticking for all of us. We do not have much time left. We have to make every day count. Each day, we have to choose how to spend our time. We cannot put time into a box and save it to use later. There is no ‘undo’ button that lets us start a day again, so that we can delete the thoughtless errors of our previous attempt. Our time is not properly spent unless we attend to our real work: the two and a half hours of daily meditation, which we promised at the time of our initiation.
In The Science of the Soul Maharaj Jagat Singh Ji reminds us of the importance of using our limited time for our real work:
Life is short. Time is fleeting. Take full advantage of it, and if you have not done ‘your own work’ already, start doing it now.
“Our own work” is meditation, which hones our concentration. It focuses our mind and takes it away from the thousands of distractions that haunt us every day. Meditation requires us to sit alone in silence and stillness for two and a half hours each day. It is that focused stillness and silence that leads the disciple to the transcendent Light and Sound. This requires a lot of discipline and steadfast commitment.
Many of us love to multitask and consider it a great skill, but in the realm of spirituality, it is as useless as it is destructive. It only serves to fritter away our concentration, thereby lessening our focus and the amount of time we can sit in meditation. The more we entertain activities that scatter our consciousness into the world, the longer it will take to focus our mind in meditation and the longer it will take to make progress.
After all is said and done, longing and love are the only qualities that will help us achieve the focus we are after. Obedience and the desire to please our Master lead us to persistent effort. And, the Masters tell us, it is our longing and our persistent effort that will help us win the battle to hold the attention at the eye centre.
To have success in meditation, the aspirant must enter upon it with the determination to explore its possibilities. He must not start with reservations, but should be willing to go where he is led but without expectations. The essence of meditation is one-pointedness to merge in the Shabad to the exclusion of all other thoughts even when they are enticing.
Legacy of Love