Thursday, December 4, 2014

Do What You are Doing: Age Quod Agis

Multitasking is doing more than one thing at the same time. Sister columnist in the Catholic Times focuses our attention on this very common experience in our lives. She mentions hearing the sound of a radio in the class room below, and goes down to the room. A teacher is preparing his lesson plans with a book open, listening to the radio. Out of curiosity she asked him: Are you able to listen to the radio while working on your paper? He  told her that while he was absorbed in the book he doesn't hear the radio, and when he is listening to the radio he is not reading. She then asked why does he have the radio turned on? When there is no sound he feels something missing. Some feel when they are doing more than one thing at a time, they have a feeling of completeness.

Many, both children and adults, listen to music while they read or work, and we have those who watch TV while reading. Common to see someone drinking tea, listening to music and reading. By doing this they feel they are more efficient, one will stay with the reading longer. But are they really more efficient?

Authorities tell us that it is difficult for the brain to be involved in two activities at the same time. The brain is strained and is fatigued. What is really happening  is we are switching very rapidly from one task to another. Step by step and continuously we are going from one task to another, and we are under the illusion we are doing it all at the same time.

The brain she says is like a remote control device that switches from one thing to another. When the mind is enjoying stimulation from the outside, and you are reading a book your full attention is not on reading.

There is music that can help you to be absorbed in your reading and block out the noise, chatter, and other distractions and give one a quiet refuge to attend to the reading. But once you become habituated to this way of reading you will find it difficult to stop. Our brains are influenced by our emotions and affects the chemistry of the brain: the way we become addicted to drugs. We can become dependent on feeling to move us to action.

She uses the words of a philosopher to show that we are moving from the contemplative and meditative  to a more feeling and amusement orientated direction in our lives. We are more interested in the stimulation that comes from the outside.

She concludes her article with the well known incident in the life of Augustine where he was moved deeply by seeing Ambrose reading without moving his lip. Now, "as he read, his eyes glanced over the pages and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent. Often when we came to his room—for no one was forbidden to enter, nor was it his custom that the arrival of visitors should be announced to him—we would see him thus reading to himself. After we had sat for a long time in silence—for who would dare interrupt one so intent?" 

We who find it difficult to give our attention to what we are doing should  take these words of St. Augustine about St. Ambrose, and make them our attitude when we approach our reading.

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