In the last year or so I’ve been listening to scores of podcasts and as many books on Audible. Any time in the car, even twenty minutes to the grocery, I’m listening to Tolkien or Wendell Berry or a history of Mexico, ahead of our fall trip there. Washing dishes and cleaning up the house after dinner, watering the pots and plants, weeding gardens, anytime I’ve got more or less mindless work to do—the buds go in my ears and in stream podcasts like On Being, Nomad, Another Name for Everything.
At the time, it seemed like a great idea. Empty time could be redeemed, washing dishes could be fun, the more I knew about more things, the smarter and more knowledgeable I would become. I didn’t think of myself as a multitasker. That was someone eating lunch at their desk while typing a report and pretending participation in a conference call. I don’t even go to an office anymore.
Besides, all the content I was listening to was really good. It was mind-opening, intriguing, inspiring. How else was I going to find time to take all this good stuff in?
After months and hundreds of earbud hours, however, I noticed I was feeling slightly unsettled. Abstract anxiety was creeping in again. I was fidgety, more critical, less observant.Then one Sunday afternoon I read a piece about technology and multitasking. Only about ten percent of people, the article said, could perform multiple tasks simultaneously without losing productivity. The vast rest of us just got less effective. I realized that was me. I wasn’t concerned so much with productivity or effectiveness. I just wanted to be fully awake and aware in whatever moment I found myself, because, I was finding, not to be in that place was a spiritual health hazard. I didn’t feel good.
It took a while to put my mind into ‘mindless’ tasks again. It felt odd washing a pot, pulling a weed, or driving in traffic without someone exciting talking in my ear. At first it was like a silent movie, until silence gradually awakened the simple, beautiful soundtrack of everyday life. After a few weeks I noticed that I was, well—happier. That’s all.
I don’t think others need to do what I’ve done. There are hundreds of ways to wake up to life.