Early on in my hike of the AT I heard this phrase (“If you go the whole way, you only come half way back”) was told to the Erwin, TN trail angel Miss Janet and she just smiled in response.
There are many possible ways to interpret this saying. In fact, it is likely to be intentionally ambiguous. This week back in the “regular world” I’ve struggled to handle the rapid stimulus of modern life. On the trail I would repeat a song or a mantra for days and meditate upon it. In regular life a dinner party can have 3 or 4 conversations going on simultaneously. Putting out even a minute amount of contemplation regarding any bit of the conversation is nearly impossible. It is all lost in a flash of the moment; and the moment not well remembered for lack of their really being a moment.
Years ago I read a book called “Buddhism is Not What You Think” which emphasized the mindfulness of single-tasking. I’m a big fan of single-tasking. It’s not that I can’t multitask. I’ve proven that I can multitask with the best of them in Engineering school or on the job. But, I now choose not to multitask. (although sometimes I’m known to do some telephone-music-email-internetting as my brother and I call it).
“Buddhism is Not What You Think” mentioned that when you do the dishes you should fully focus on that task. Even this simple task is still a task and can be done with mindfulness and quality. In a Christian framework we have an additional motivation; all that we do is done to the glory of God. Whatever our job is (whether a computer programmer or a dish washer) we are to do our absolute best; focusing on that task at hand.
Focusing is nearly impossible for many in our modern times. To focus on the important concerns I’ve walked for nearly 5 months, often alone, and reflected, thought, and thought over and over again about many topics. We don’t have this luxurious amount of time in the regular world. But we can make much more time for us if we are serious about it. I have many recommendations. Each one I say to people is immediately fought against: “I don’t have the money” or “That’s not possible in my situation.” The reality is we need to make drastic decisions to increase our mindfulness and focus to ultimately give us time for philosophic reflection and worship of God. We need to be bold. Here is what I suggest, and I welcome additional recommendations:
1. Get rid of your tv. Really. This one is obvious. It is complete garbage.
2. Don’t like your job? Quit. Don’t have the money? What are you spending it on that is truly needed? Many have lived on far less.
3. Get rid of your stuff. This really should be recommendation #1. To focus on what is important you need to get rid of the distractions. Try the 100 possession challenge. Give away your books after you finish them – keep just a small number of books at any time; the others will just seem like a burden needing to be read.
4. Listen to people. Be brief but thoughtful in your responses.
5. Remove yourself from all unwanted email.
6. Remove yourself from all unwanted mail.
7. Do only that which you want to do. Quit all clubs, associations, etc. that you are not benefitting by.