A good friend and I went off to a yoga retreat last weekend. It was in a remote hostel outside Inglewood, near New Plymouth, in the middle of nowhere. It was very beautiful, reminding me a little of Devon where I come from in England. Lots of rolling pastures and green and lush. It was also out of mobile reception.
No calls, texts, emails, TV or internet. It was also in true strict ashram style: no tea, coffee, meat, eggs, dairy, alcohol. But there were mung beans. For breakfast. Whoa.
To begin it was an assault on the senses to have all the things I take for granted that are under my control (when I eat, when I wake, and being able to get hold of anyone or any information anytime I like) removed. It was very tempting to become focused on what was missing until I realised that would be to miss the point of the experience. By removing so many things it really opened up the space to experience more of what was actually present.
The mung beans actually started to taste good...ish (let's not get carried away).
There, with no TV or distraction, food tasted better as it had my full focus. I lay on the grass between classes and watched the dragonflies buzzing lazily about and read a book.
And I didn't feel guilty about all the other things I "should" be doing or checking my email because, quite simply, there was nothing else to do. There was more joy in the simple things; a hot shower; the chickpea fritters; the body moving through the yoga asanas; the silent but tangible energy of the group meditations. It was as if I was experiencing the sensations of regular things more than I usually do. Everything felt more intense.
And I realised that this was because I was mono-tasking. The increasingly unusual state of doing just one thing at a time. I am a demon multi-tasker, and even when I am actually doing only one thing, I am usually thinking about doing another when it's complete. This leads to overwhelm and stress and also I can see it sucks a little bit of joy out of the present.
By checking emails while watching TV and eating I may be a multi-tasking queen but I am not getting the full joy of any one of those three experiences. I am short-changing myself of the joy inherent in a fab TV show, an email from a friend, or a well-cooked meal by splitting my attention in so many directions. When all the distractions and choices were gone and I had disconnected from the net, what was left was a far greater connection to myself and the simple pleasures of everyday life.
By ceasing the flow of other people's information, opinions and news I had the clarity to connect with my own inner voice.
It felt good to do that. It was a good lesson, and one I intend to incorporate into my everyday life with dedicated "unplugged" time each week.
If you are a demon multi-tasker what would a little mono-tasking do for you?