Being Present: what Samurai teach us about Multitasking!

Feb 4 22:00 2004 Marije Miller Print This Article

... my husband and I saw the movie ‘The Last ... Usually I don’t watch movies with a lot of ... because it makes me ... But my interest was piqued when I saw an ...

Yesterday,Guest Posting my husband and I saw the movie ‘The Last Samurai’. Usually I don’t watch movies with a lot of violence, because it makes me uncomfortable. But my interest was piqued when I saw an interview with Tom Cruise, who was curiously unable to express the personal effect this movie had on his own life. It had clearly been an experience that had deeply effected him. To see him, usually so articulate, stumble for words made me want to go see the movie.

I won’t be describing the story; that’s not what this article is about. But there was something really impressive about it that I want to share with you. The movie portrayed the way of the Samurai, the Japanese warriors of old times. Tom Cruise’s character, an army captain captured by the Samurai, describes the concept of mindfulness of the Japanese people: ‘when something is being done, it is done to perfection.’ He is amazed by their discipline and the focus they have on whatever task they are doing. Each action they take is based on this spiritual foundation of mindfulness.

In one scene the captain is practicing his fighting skills with a warrior. Tom is loosing time and again. Suddenly one of the watching warriors tells him: ‘Too many minds!’ With this the warrior addresses the fact that Tom’s attention is diverted to many different thoughts: he’s focusing on the watchers, on the warrior and on himself, which makes him lose. The sentence ‘No mind!’ brings the captain fully into the present moment, which ultimately allows him to finish the fight in a ‘draw’ instead of defeat.

In our western culture we often act from a different perspective. We feel that the more we ‘multitask’ the more we are able to achieve and this makes us a better person. It’s almost like we have to defend our right to exist by how much we accomplish! But one of my clients illustrates how we often dilute our own ability to fully live life. Josie had contacted me about a change in her career that she had wanted for a long time. She wanted to become more successful in her business. However, during our sessions she constantly came up against blocks that prevented her from taking the actions that we planned out. She told me how she often felt overwhelmed by all the things in her life. She had many unfinished projects around her house, which kept occupying space in her mind as well. And because she was constantly aware of them, she kept beating herself up about not finishing them. “I feel like I never get anything accomplished. It totally drags me down and when I see everything that needs to be done, it’s just too much and I shut down!”

I noticed the vicious cycle that her mind was in by how she described her problem. Her thoughts went from “I should be doing this- I know I need to do this- but I have so many things to finish- I never finish anything- I’m a failure.” There was clearly ‘old tape’ running in her mind. Most of us have this old tape running in the background of our thinking: it’s an old message we decided on a long time ago and now it’s an automatic cycle that keeps playing over and over.

Luckily, there are several ways to diminish this old tape. One of them is to become Fully Present. In Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘The Power of NOW’ he describes Presence as being Here, Now. When you are fully here, now, your mind stops running its tape. In its place there is a deep and peaceful silence. Our mind is a useful tool for gathering information and designing strategies, but in our lives we usually are too identified with what we think. Most anxious feelings are started because we think too much. We worry, which is a thought based on either our past or our future. This takes us out of the present moment. Anxiousness doesn’t have a space in the present.

Together, Josie and I started integrating some exercises into her life. Meditation was one of them, but Josie only had very limited time available. There had to be practices she could integrate during her normal daily activities. She finally settled for two specific ways. She stopped multitasking! In an interview Maya Angelou describes how multitasking doesn’t really serve us. She was cleaning vegetables and watching her granddaughter play, when she suddenly cut her finger. Because she was doing two things at the same time, her attention wasn’t fully focused on what she was doing and the result was that she damaged herself physically. To become present, she put both hands under the faucet and put all her attention to the one thing she was now doing. She fully enjoyed the feel of running water over her skin and with that she was fully present. Josie took this example to heart and made the commitment to really focus on what she does, one thing at a time.

The other way that Josie uses to become fully present is from Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘Stillness Speaks’. He gives the example to look at a tree and simply observe it standing. You don’t have to describe it, just look. The tree doesn’t do anything, it’s not taking action or trying to reach a goal or pretend that it’s something it is not. A tree just is. And when you observe it, you connect with that same stillness of being present. Another client told me about her experience. She said being present not only relieves tension, it’s much more personal than that. ‘Being fully present, to me, is a very personal peaceful and calming experience.’ For myself, being fully present is an incredibly intimate and vulnerable experience, but without the fear of getting hurt. Fear is mostly about ‘perceiving’ painful possibilities, which are projected in the future. Therefore, when you are feeling fearful, you are not being present.

Josie started using these techniques, including some other ones as well. She reported back to me a couple of weeks later. She felt more peaceful and more in control of her life. Over the next few months she got very good at stopping that running old tape. This enabled her to focus on the projects that had been waiting for her, one by one. It allowed her to see results, which ultimately made her feel much better about herself!

Now I am challenging you to observe your thoughts this week. Simply notice how often your mind drifts off… again and again! No more multitasking; you are then diverting your attention, which makes you really not as efficient in living as you think you are. Just pull your attention back to what you are doing at that moment. Because, whenever you notice you’re not present, in that moment you are present. Amazing how that is!

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Marije Miller
Marije Miller

Marije is a Certified Comprehensive Coach and a member of Coachville, 24/7 Coaching, IAC, Peer Resources and E-Women Network. She can be reached at (530) 274-7568 or visit her website at

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