Do one thing at a time; as beautifully as possible.
I heard this advice 15 or 20 years ago from a Buddhist monk. I would like to be able to say it was in some exotic, remote Tibetan monastery, but it was in Hathersage just outside Sheffield. (I say that as a Sheffielder. Perhaps a Tibetan would prefer to hear poetic pearls of wisdom in Hathersage.)
Regardless, it’s the most eloquent expression of the idea of living life in the moment that I know of; the idea that one of the keys to happiness, fulfilment and enjoyment is to commit yourself to whatever you are doing without distraction.
It’s easier said than done. Most of the time, people’s brains are leaping between different thoughts and emotions; from big worries to trivial concerns, recollections and memories to future plans, the highfalutin to the understated, from thoughts and feelings that relate to the moment to those that don’t.
Apart from a lucky few for whom single mindedness is natural and distractions are alien, those of us who believe in the idea of doing one thing at a time need to practice before we can expect to do those things beautifully.
Some things lend themselves to being in the moment. Being in an awe inspiring cathedral, looking at a painting that you love, being with someone you are in love with, watching a film or sporting contest from the edge of your seat, challenging work, stimulating conversation. Tremendous scenes and bike rides.
Bike riding is peppered with things that concentrate your mind. Handsome countryside, gauging your effort up a climb, picking your line and controlling your speed down the other side, filtering through city traffic with your wits about you.
Enough of your brain is occupied while riding to mean that conversations on the bike are often less distracted because there isn’t the spare capacity for other thoughts to sneak in. Conversations during a bike ride can be amongst the most fulfilling as a consequence.
Conversely other things distract. Yapping dogs, garrulous chums, faffers, flappers, pub quiz masters and bingo callers and strangers with loud voices. And smart phones. Anyone from the above list with a smart phone is a double distraction. Although a yapping dog with a smartphone is a whole that is more than the sum of its parts and deserves full attention.
Boring moments themselves invite your brain to look elsewhere for the laugh; boring things, boring places or boring people. If you can’t follow the advice from the kids TV programme ‘Why Don’t You’ and ‘do something less boring instead’, you need Zen Master skills to prevent your mind from wandering.
Maybe life is too short to beat yourself up if your mind wanders in dull moments. But maybe the Buddhist monk I met in Hathersage would reveal his Shaolin monk kung fu skills and do the job for me for saying that.