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A Mindfulness Query

October '09

I drove north last week and kept my multi-tasking to a minimum by listening to NPR. I don’t remember the name, or host, of this call-in radio program, but the subject certainly commanded my attention. The show focused on the evolutionary impact of what the narrator called, “continuous partial attention.” Sounded like some new disease, but I recognized that he was describing the way text-messaging, email, and cell phones interrupt our lives, so we can never give full attention to the present moment.

While I love the “connected life” as much as the next person, I fell into the camp of the callers who bemoaned the negative impact of these new technologies on our lives. That is, until one woman called in with a perspective that turned my perceptions upside down.

She gave “continuous partial attention” a positive spin by suggesting that this phenomenon had caused her to become more “mindful.” It actually prompted her to consider how she wants to live her life more consciously.

She provided two situations as examples. In the first, she is walking along the Charles River and asks herself whether she wants to wait for a text message from her brother, or turn off her phone. In the second, she is having dinner in Cambridge and decides whether or not to pull out her phone to determine what’s showing at the Capitol Theater in Arlington and what the weather is like there.

These two scenarios helped me understand her point that these new technologies provide an opportunity for us to become more mindful about the quality of our lives. In fact, I had just addressed an interrupted-life problem the day before.

To alleviate the increased stress that a newly acquired volunteer job had created for me, I developed what I called a “Saturday strategy.” I decided to tuck the daily, incoming email related to this work into a “2-Read” file and also to enter every “to-do” item from phone calls I received into my planner. Then on Saturdays, I intend to devote two hours to this work – period. I’ll let you now how this strategy works out: )

If we wish to be fully present to the richness in each moment of our lives in this age of “continuous partial attention,” we’ll have to strengthen our “mindfulness” muscles. Are you willing to ask yourself the kind of questions the caller did when she was walking by the Charles River, or dining in Cambridge? How do, or will you choose to handle your day-to-day interruptions? I’d love to hear about any decisions you make and the impact these choices have on your life.

Happy Halloween,
Bonnie

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4 Comments

  1. Gemma Utting said on October 31, 2009:

    Dear Bonnie
    This memo hit the spot for me! I have a dear friend who has a very odd disease and she might die any minute. She and I have been talking about how we spend our precious moments of consciousness – and you are right. The multi-connected options we have now are, in some ways, no different from sitting at a table with all our loved ones and moving seamlessly between multiple joyous conversations. Our comments and attention touching lightly here, plunging there – but always alert, always at choice.
    Gemma

  2. Meg said on October 31, 2009:

    “Partial attention”doesn’t allow you to live in the moment. Life is too short, enjoy it while you can.

  3. Gemma Utting said on November 1, 2009:

    Meg
    Who is to judge whether or not “my partial attention” is not fully living or enjoyable?
    It’s not that half of me is missing in action – it’s more that I am choosing to pay attention to more than one thing at any given moment. This is probably the way humanity is most of the time — are we mostly NOT living fully?
    I find this an interesting line of discussion!
    Thanks for joining n.
    Gemma
    PS Believing that partial attention is not enjoyable rather dooms motherhood! It seems to me to be in great measure about multiple, competing wonderful moments such that dancing lightly between moments is a very workable response.

  4. Bonnie said on November 13, 2009:

    Love the conversation!
    Bonnie

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