Since I entered the monastery ten years ago the explosion in communications technology has only complicated the matter by making multitasking increasingly possible. For example, cell phones allow folks to communicate with each other daily or many times daily no matter what they are doing or where they may be. As a result, we have seen that it is very hard for women exploring this life to imagine not speaking to their grown children every day.
So what is the concern about this great technique for being efficient and staying in touch?
One of the guidelines for cultivating human relationships is attentiveness and presence. Awake and aware attentiveness and presence is also necessary for developing relationship with God. Our skills at multitasking can become so highly habituated in us that the effort to move to attentiveness and presence becomes very challenging. It can demand a real effort of will to stop and smell the roses.
Creating a conscious, thoughtful balance in our lives seems to be the answer. We cannot become Luddites, rejecting all modern innovation. But we cannot become so enslaved the range of stimuli before us that we lose an esthetic and spiritual sensivity to our environment, our relationships and the action of God in our lives. The author Stephen Mitchell defines prayer as "a quality of attention that makes so much space for the given that it can appear as gift." How does one cultivate that "quality of attention"? The answer for me has been to put multi-tasking in its proper place and to know when it is time to stop and smell the roses. This is a devotion to conscious living, conscious suffering, conscious awareness, also expressed as "the practice of the presence of God".