One important function of the brain is memory. For the purpose of learning, we have to use memory to relate the experience of past, present, and future. However, to have a true authentic experience, we have to be fully present. Buddhism says there is no past, because the past is already gone. There is no future, because the future hasn’t arrived yet. There is only present. When you are too immersed in memory function of the brain (either for “legitimate” reasons such as learning or for other reasons such as indulgence in the past), you become dis-associative with the present, it is hard for you to respond, and it causes anxiety. You got stuck. You don’t see a big truck coming at you when crossing the street. By focusing on the present, doing whatever you are doing, or not doing anything when you are not doing anything, your mind gets out of the grip of memory association, and becomes like fluid again so you can function like a mirror. When you do that, you can then have peace again. And that exact experience is what really connects you to the past and the future.

Legitimate as it is in learning, there are ways to reduce thinking. One way is to separate memory and reasoning. To be specific, you can go through photos or diary, or walk through place of your childhood, just refresh your memory. After you are able to see a clear picture of your past experience, you can then focus on reasoning, and you reason very fast. Don’t be excessive with your thinking. Just enough is ok.

When you feel you need to think about something (for example, when you just gained some significant experience), stop what you are doing and take your time to think about it (probably note it down as well). After it, forget it and do whatever you need to do.

When you cannot let go of past, it might give you an illusion of multitasking. It does somehow allow you to do something else since you keep associating your past and future. At that point, it might be useful to ask yourself, are you doing learning, playing and creating activities? Then ask how to do it better. From my experience, I feel a lot more efficient just doing the thing I am doing. But once in a while (usually at weekends) I do try just let my mind roaming around and running free. I do so trying to give the brain some inspirational input once in a while.

We are space, and in our everyday life, we are interacting with different spaces. When we are doing things, our mind should follow our body. When you do so, you are experiencing the space. When you are in the realm of associating past, present and future, let your mind be with that space. When you are with the space, it is easier for you to be aware that your mind is not following the space. You just cannot put it down. If you still have memory trace in your mind, you cannot be fully present. You have past and future because you want to have a better now. So please have the now.

I do some kind of multitasking. For example, I watch movies, at the same time, I am learning English and American culture, and taking a break from my engineering work. Sometimes I like doing manual labor, so at the same time I am taking a break from my mental world, having some exercise of my body, getting more in touch with society, helping others and practice letting go. There are many things that are orthogonal, and they don’t interfere with each other. So I always try to put orthogonal activities together so I can do them at the same time with my current capacity. I called it maximizing cooperation. There are things that interfere with each other. For example, my engineering work competes with my English and culture learning. At present, I haven’t grown big enough to be able to combine them together nicely. When I was in China, however, they work with each other very well and was very inspirational for each other.

Just thought to share some of my experiences regarding multitasking. Nothing serious here. It is not well thought out. Hope it can be a little help.


1 Comment

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One response to “Multitasking

  1. Interesting concept of orthogonal activities that don’t compete with each other. Some activities do feel much better for synchronizing mind and body: for example, in the Indian tradition yoga; in the Chinese tradition, martial arts and qi gong.

    These activities seem to maximize cooperation between body, breath and mind, rather than compete for the same mental space, like engineering and learning a language.

    You could think of martial arts, manual labor, or yoga as whole-brain activities, in which the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and conscious muscle systems are all working, using different capabilities of one’s being for a one-pointed task, as opposed to trying to use the same small part of the brain working to accomplish several different tasks at once.

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