My life is often a mess – in just the way you’d expect a student and aspiring professor’s life to be. I have eight projects in the wings, a thesis I should be writing right now – it’s next on the agenda, no crazy Friday nights here, just thesis writing, – a long and growing list of people to get back to, about a dozen ‘tabs’ open in my browser now, and so on. At least for the moment my belly is full and I have coffee nearby…
I am a multitasker. I’ve even read this whole book and then picked up not one, but two of the next books on my list to review.
As bright as I might be sometimes, I don’t think I’ve quite learned all of the lessons of this very wonderful book, Meditation for Multitaskers. But wait, one of those lessons is that it takes some time and not to expect the whole world to change on account of having meditated a few times. Ah, relief.
To begin, the book is extremely well-written and direct. The fact is, multitasking doesn’t work. It takes our attention in six different directions and prevents us from doing a good job in any of the tasks at hand. To actually do anything well, we need to drop most of the distractions of the moment and focus.
David Dillard-Wright gives a brief summary of just a few studies showing that in multitasking: productivity drops, IQ falls, accidents accumulate. All of this should be fairly obvious – ever talk on the phone with someone who is doing five other things at the same time? And yet we still praise and encourage multitasking. No wonder we as a society are in such bad health, physically and emotionally. And the cure? Focus. “Focus is the antithesis of multitasking-related stress, and with focus you will find peace.” (p.19)
In fact, to write this review I started out by going to a nearby park. I sat in the sunshine and, for a few minutes, simply observed the world around me. It may sound strange, but it was blissful. Now, back in my room/office, surrounded by clutter and temptations to veer this way or that, I find myself much less at peace. Maybe it’s just the coffee kicking in But no, actually when I stop for a moment (like this) and simply observe, even this cluttered room, it does something, somehow bringing calm and contentment. Crazy stuff.
Back to the book. After convincing us that multitasking is bad and meditation/focus/peace are good, the book presents a series of exercises and tools for developing that focus, starting with just a couple minutes and working up to longer practices. It works. And as I mentioned, it is so well written that the material just comes to life. There are a couple sections that get into specific traditions’ chants and the “world heart traditions” that did come off as a bit superficial and unnecessary to me, but that was more than made up for by a lengthy discussion of a topic close to my own heart: ethics. And that’s followed up by sections on wisdom (perfect).
“You can’t act on good thoughts if you don’t have them to act on.” (p.136)
There’s even a section on “what meditation can and cannot do.” Basically saying, “let’s be honest here, some aspects of your life are going to have to change if you want peace and happiness.”
The flow of development is accentuated by well-picked quotes from figures such as Bertrand Russell, Paul Cézanne, Socrates, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Anthony De Mello. Comparing it with Mindfulness to Go, the last book I reviewed, I would say this one is a bit more ‘heady’ – which for me is a compliment. Along with the quotes, there is a section of ‘further reading’ for each chapter, giving full citations of books/studies mentioned in the book – much appreciated by academics. So, if you like those things, get this book, if not, Meditation to Go might be more fitting.