Tag Archives: mind

Thoughts on Mono-tasking

Sculpting Group Thoughts on Mono-tasking

Anthony Bloom (Medical Doctor/Orthodox Archbishop): “You can simply be completely concerned with the person or task that is in front of you, and when you have finished you will discover that you have spent half the time doing it . . . yet you have seen everything and heard everything.” Beginning to Pray

I am laying on the bed/table in the emergency room with a thumb infection that got out of hand and thinking about the challenges of the emergency room doctor. My doctor, Andy, was coming in soon to do a small surgery on my thumb. In the room next to me a man was having a heart attack and in the room beyond that a young child was crying about some illness or injury. What a challenge to move quickly from diverse situations and be fully present for each. As he walks in the door of each room Andy needs to become intellectually and emotionally focused on the situation right in front of him. Mono-tasking.

Before becoming a priest and then Archbishop, Anthony Bloom worked as a medical doctor. He tells a story of his discovery of the benefits of mono-tasking in Beginning to Pray. Dr. Bloom had a doctor’s office like most of us have experienced with a waiting full of patients (patiently?) waiting to be seen. On the first day of his practice Dr. Bloom found that as he sat in his consulting room questioning a patient he had in his mind’s eye the many waiting patients in the next room. He felt he should be as quick as possible in the consulting room so as to help the next person.

Dr. Bloom was multitasking; Thinking of patients in one room while consulting with patients in another. Like our brains, his brain couldn’t do both simultaneously. Bloom observed that in the consulting room, “The result was that all the questions I asked I had to ask twice all the examinations I made I had to make twice or even three times.”

This multitasking was not working so Bloom changed tactics to mono-tasking. “I decided that I would behave as if the person who was with me was the only one who existed.” Once he changed to the mono-task method Bloom found examinations took half the time and he experienced less inner tension and agitation. Bloom felt a greater mastery over time and the ability to keep the storms of life on then outside and prayerful peace on the inside.

Using our strength to sculpt our heart, soul, and mind to love God and our neighbor.


Sculpting Project 9: Mono-tasking: Week 2

Sculpting Project 9: Mono-tasking: Week 2

The Drama: Five Minutes of Attempted Mono-tasking

1: I am attempting to mono-task, focusing on one thing: typing this page about multitasking.
2. My back is sore, (thought) ‘when an I going to take some time for stretching?’
3: Thought, ‘the goats are hungry for lunch I should feed them.’
4: Pieces of a phone conversation in another part of the house come to my ears.
5. My husband asks a question related to the phone conversation.
6: The sun is shining in on me and (thought) ‘I have a priority of taking a walk today.’
7: Thought,’I will have a friend coming soon, maybe I should go now. ‘
8: The phone rings and the friend is calling to come.
9: Thought, ‘Oops, the bread is all risen. I need to go punch it down and get it in the oven.’ (At this point I leave the computer to take care of the bread and goats and get ready for the friend who is on the way, still wondering how I will get a walk in and finish this page before I attend a gathering this evening.)


So what just happened to me: I was beginning to mono-task. Then I experienced interruptions. Some interruptions were internal; thoughts about feeding the goats or baking the bread. Other interruptions were external; the phone call, a question to answer. Some interruptions were prompted by an external stimulus the shining sun reminded me of my goal to walk.

Mono-tasking can be a serious challenge for me. Multitasking takes the challenge one step more. When I choose to multitask I am choosing interruptions.

Q: What can store one billion bits of information in its life span, take 1/10 of a second to figure out complex incoming data and has 100 billion neurons?
A: Your brain.

Q: What has limitations on speed, can only hold on to about 4 things in a working memory, and can only pay attention to one thing at a time?
A: Your brain.

The myth of multitasking

Our brains are not built with multitasking capacity.

We may think we can pay attention to two things at a time but actually we cannot.

Our brains are continually taking in lots of information. The frontal lobe, where we pay attention, has a doorkeeper that only allows in one thing at a time. Attempts to multitask require our brains to switch attention. The doorkeeper becomes a revolving door operator. With each switch/revolution of the door we pay the cost of time. And as we age the ability to switch attention becomes slower.

So the first cost of multitasking is time. The more we do at once the longer it takes.

The second cost of multitasking is quality.

When we do one thing at a time we can do A grade work.

When we add a second activity our quality grade drops to B. Add a third and we are doing C work.

Some psychological research paints an even grimmer picture, saying that: 1. the more you multitask the worse you become at it; and 2. multitaskers are losing the ability to pay attention deeply to anything.

Activities that are very automated (walking and chewing gum) require less attention and can be multitasked to a certain degree. But even automated activities interfere with each other in our brains.

When to Multitask:

When a task is automatic and boring multitasking brings a novelty that can make the time more enjoyable. Listening to music while we work can be a mood booster. Some situations require multitasking such as caring for small children while cooking dinner.

When Not to Multitask:

When you want to do a task well, beautifully.
When you have a limited time to work.
When you want to let your mind think deeply and be fully present.

Sculpting Project 9: Mono-task

Select one task each day to mono-task in the company of the Holy Spirit.


Sculpting Project 9: Mono-tasking: Week 1

Sculpting Project 9: Mono-tasking Week 1

Q: How can you be two places at once when you are not really anywhere at all?
A: Multitask
(Paraphrase with thanks to Fireside Theater.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI write #99 for the 1000th time, 401 more numbers to go. This was not my first plan, but hand numbering the gratitude journals seemed like the best way to complete the products. My numbering tool, a colored pencil, is not very forgiving when errors require erasing so I must write from 1 to 100 14 times without making a mistake. Single minded focus in a repetitive, boring task. This required mono-tasking.

I completed the numbering with only two errors and a genuine peace of mind.

Multitasking is the effort to use our mind to do two or more tasks simultaneously. When it comes to walking and chewing gum at the same time we can be pretty successful. But when both tasks require attention our success rate is quite another matter.

Mono-tasking is the effort to keep our mind’s attention on one task at a time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I am making candles. I have done this task many times so my need to give full attention is limited. I really want to learn more about research on multitasking, so I decide to try some multitasking to learn about multitasking. I am cutting and tying wick as I listen to a lecture that explains my brain’s inability to pay full attention to two things at the same time. Sure enough I find that I can not tie wick and retain the information that I want to remember. So I stop working with wick and give my attention to the short lecture. Multitasking requires our brains to continually switch the focus of attention. I notice that for me this constant switching requires energy and creates stress.

When I have a lot to do I am tempted to multitask, but this choice is actually counterproductive. The more I have to do the more I need to mono-task.

Sculpting Project 9: Mono-tasking

Each day this week select one task/period of time to mono-task.
Give your full attention to that task, remembering that you are continually accompanied by the Holy Spirit.
So far as it is possible remove everything that would require your brain to shift attention, even music in the background.
Let us know what you choose to mono-task and any discoveries you make.

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Then secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

Using our strength to sculpt our heart, soul, and mind to love God and our neighbor.

Sculpting Project Eight: Talking Back: Week 2

Sculpting Project Eight: Talking Back Week 2

Jill B. Taylor, a brain scientist from Harvard, suffered a stroke in a portion of her left hemisphere. Through eight years of healing she recovered the use of the affected brain regions and found her experience to be a Stroke of Insight.

The ‘Story Teller’ is the name she gave to a portion of her affected left brain. All of our brains have a Story Teller that has the job of taking bits of data and putting them together into a logical story. As Jill Taylor recovered her Story Teller she became intrigued with it’s ability to take tiny pieces of information and turn them into stories. She was amused at the Story Tellers antics until she realized that her brain fully expected her to believe the stories it made up. She had become savvy enough to realize that these sketchy stories “ain’t necessarily so”.

When we Talk Back we are correcting some of the assumptions of the Story Teller.

Martin Seligman, past president APA and the founder of Positive Psychology offers us a tool he calls ABCDE. The ‘D’ step is Talking Back.

ABCDE: (with adjustments to add the reality of the Holy Spirit)

A – Adversity. The problem happens, or comes to mind.

My new friend does not return my phone call.

B- Belief. I start talking to myself about my beliefs related to this situation.

Why haven’t they called back? They probably don’t really like me. And they aren’t the only ones; none of my friends call me any more. For the rest of my life I will just be sitting at home, lonely. There is nothing I can do to fix it.

C – Consequences. My emotions kick in, my body starts to feel their effects and my behavior follows.

I become sad. My stomach starts to churn. My body becomes weak. I crawl off to bed ignoring the phone when it rings.

D – Disputation. I correct my belief by disputing with it. I invite the Holy Spirit to come and give me wisdom in dealing with this situation. I ask God to come to my aid in this situation and I give Him thanks.

God, I am hurting. I feel so alone here. My stomach is all knotted up with sadness, help me to see things your way. Holy Spirit, guide my thinking. Maybe I don’t have all the facts here. And I do have some friends that call me, thank you for them. In fact, last week I went out to lunch with one. Maybe my friend’s answering machine is not working. Or maybe they are sad and just crawled into bed like I have. Maybe that phone call I just ignored was them.

E – Energization. My emotions and body start to feel better and I am energized with better behavior.

I get out of bed and make another phone call.

A: Adversity, B: your beliefs and C: the consequences happen naturally. D: disputation is where we step in with the guidance from God and are able to adopt a new belief about the adversity. E is the resulting gift from God.

Redwood forests, aspen forests in the early winter and my mind after Talking Back: deeply quiet.

Sculpting Project Eight: Talking Back: Week 1

Sculpting Project Eight: Talking Back: Week 1    

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am out working in the fall garden and my mind is far away. It is trying make sense of a troubling situation. It has been trying to make sense of this situation for a number of hours and I am beginning to notice that I am circling back to earlier attempts at a solution. This is starting to look like rumination. Rumination: analyzing problems over and over without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Analyzing can be very helpful, to a point that is. Endless circling attempts to solve difficulties can led into depression. And today’s problem is the kind that comes with a knot in my stomach which is not a helpful condition to prolong. So how can I break this cycle of rumination. Today the trick that works for me is an old one I learned from Evagrius a forth century monk. His method is called Talking Back.

Talking Back in a nut shell

We get a thought in our minds that is not helpful.
We use a phrase to talk back to this thought

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I take a phrase from Scripture that feels like it relates to my struggle and I say the Scripture out loud. The rumination starts in again immediately so I Talk Back again with this Scripture. The ruminating pattern is so strong in my brain that I find it helpful to just repeat the Scripture over and over. After several minutes of repetition I take a break. My mind is quieter; for a minute or two and then the rumination rut is back. So I begin Talking Back until I gain some control of my thinking and some peace of mind.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two days later: Now I am working on pottery. Trimming finished pots and creating lids. The problem is not solved and my brain seems to feel obligated to keep dragging it up again. But no solution comes. My mind sometimes reminds me of an unruly two-year old. As I form the clay another Talking Back idea comes. The perfect word for this two-year old. “No.” As soon as my brain starts in again I simply say, “no”. My brain is startled. It pauses before it makes the next attempt at a solution. Kindly and firmly I say again “no”. “Really”, my brain asks, “ I can let this go for a while?” I begin to feel peaceful.

I use my Talking Back “no” throughout the day whenever I catch myself in the rumination rut. This is a very effective tool.

Sculpting Project summary: Watch our thoughts.

When we notice an unhelpful thought then:
We Talk Back using Scripture or another appropriate word.

Key verse: Take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Cor. 10:5b


Evagrius of Pontus (AD 345-399) wrote the book Talking Back to give monks a tool for their own soul sculpting. Aware of the power of thoughts, Evagrius encouraged the monks to keep a vigilant watch over each thought that entered their minds. In Talking Back Evagrius divided problematic thoughts into 8 categories (these are the origin of the seven deadly sins.) In each category he listed a typical thought and then provided a passage from Scripture to ‘Talk Back’ to this thought.

Evagrius listed 492 thoughts and Scriptures. Here is #71 in the Sadness(depression) section.

71. Against the soul’s thought that supposes that it is tested beyond its strength:

God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Then secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31

Using our strength to sculpt our heart, soul, and mind to love God and our neighbor.


Sculpting Project Seven: Flash Prayers: Week 1

Sculpting Project Seven: Flash Prayers: Week 1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMacrina is softly snoring as she lays on the shearing table. She wakes from time to time suggesting I should give her another bite of grain and then settles down to rest some more. Shearing is a slow process at my house. I use care and a good pair of scissors. After a little over two hours I have a wash tub full of mohair and a much thinner angora goat.

I have sheared many times so the process does not require my full concentration and I find my mind wandering as Macrina snores. This week I decide to use the shearing time for my Sculpting Project. Each time I notice that my mind has wandered from shearing I send a quick Flash Prayer to God about what or whoever I am thinking about. Our new priest comes to mind, so I pray for him. “Jesus, pour your blessings on him.” My daughters come to mind. “Jesus, fill their day with Your gifts.” The two hours carry on with many more people, plans, and challenging situations coming to my mind. Whenever I remember, I send a Flash Prayer.

As I bring skinny Macrina back to her yard I notice that I am in a much better frame of mind. I wonder if it has anything to do with praying for people instead of ruminating about them. And then there is also the rich possibility that my Flash Prayers have made a difference in the world.


Brother Lawrence was my high school hero and one of the founders of this Sculpting Group. He introduced me to the challenging practice of keeping my mind on Jesus. In college I discovered a copy of Practicing the Presence of God that was bound with a collection of writings by Dr. Frank Laubach. Laubach, a Presbyterian Missionary renowned for his work in raising literacy worldwide, had a passion and plan for practicing God’s presence.

Our Sculpting Project, Flash Prayers, is one of Laubach’s “games” for keeping his mind on Jesus. As Laubach rode on buses or walked in crowds, or sat in meetings he would flash a prayer for individuals around him. He observed many reactions to his Flash Prayers such as bus passengers smiling and looking around as if talked to. When in meetings, “The atmosphere of a room changes when a few people keep whispering to God about all the rest.” Laubach asserted.


Two ways to do Flash Prayers:

Pick a period of time each day to practice. (Ex. When you are shopping or when you do an activity that requires low mental focus.)

1. When you are with other people flash a prayer for them. Keep it simple. ‘Jesus’, or ‘Pour your Blessings’. Or another prayer that feels right to you.
2 .When someone comes to your mind flash a prayer for them. Don’t just think about people, pray for them.

What to Say?
The content of Flash Prayers is usually simple.

My personal generic Flash Prayer is “Lord, pour your blessings on ________.” Sometimes I say a more specific prayer if I sense a need.

Laubach’s were often just the name “Jesus.” That was all. He was bringing Jesus to people and people to Jesus.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6: 18

Communication encourages fellow sculptors.


Sculpting Project Six: The Gift of Breath: Week 2

Sculpting Project Six: The Gift of Breath Week 2

Sneeze, sniff. I sit down to do my Centering Prayer Project. I can’t seem to settle into the quiet of this prayer method. Sniff. Sure, I have a cold but I don’t feel that badly. “Why is Centering Prayer so hard today?” That was the day I realized how central the simple inhale through my nose was to my ability to do Centering Prayer.

Our style of breath is a powerful tool for shaping mind, body and soul.

There are many ways of altering your breath to promote health for your body, improve mental functioning, and control emotions. There are breathing methods for assistance with panic attacks, blood pressure, heartburn, asthma, stress, pain, energy, sleep and more. Athletics and CEO’s use methods to improve performance.

Here are some examples:

To increase oxygen intake and enjoy the many benefits of more oxygen in your brain and blood:

1. Inhale deeply taking in as much air as you can. (Then inhale even more.)
2. Hold the breath briefly (until it becomes uncomfortable).
3. Exhale through pursed lips as much as you can blow out. (Then blow out more.)

Managing Depression (The Mindful Way through Depression, Mark Williams and others):

Method 1: Pay attention to Breath. This is the first project choice from last week.

Method 2: Breath Into. (also useful for pain management)
Locate a part of your body where you are experiencing a sensation and focus on’ breathing into’ that place.

Method 3: Breathing With. Whatever we are doing we are breathing. It is the background to all our thoughts and activities. ‘Breathing With’ is bringing this background of breath to our awareness. Continually become aware of your breath.

Breath is also a tool to assist us in Christian prayer practices.
A couple of examples from history:
Ignatius of Loyola suggested we use a rhythm of breathing while saying the Lord ’s Prayer.
Eastern Orthodox teachers tell us to use breath to focus on our heart and soul and then God.

Ideas to expand our use of breath and prayer:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpiritual breathing: as soon as we become aware of a sin we exhale our confession of sin and inhale God’s cleansing forgiveness.
As you inhale think of breathing in God’s gift, the breath of life, as you exhale think of giving yourself to God.
Inhaling, ask for the filling with the Holy Spirit and as you exhale ask to be living out the fruits of the Spirit.
Silently say a prayer phrase with each inhale and exhale. Such as inhale, ‘Thank-you Lord’, exhale, ‘have mercy on me.’
Recite a portion of Scripture with each breath. Such as inhale, ‘let every thing that has breath’ exhale ‘praise the Lord’ Ps. 150:6. Or inhale, ‘don’t worry about anything’, exhale, ‘pray about everything’ Phil 4:6.

Communicate. Tell fellow sculptors how your projects are going. We need each other.

A Little Bible Study

Breath has two main Hebrew words nesh-aw-maw’ (puff) roo’-akh (wind) and two main N.T. Greek words e-mi-phu-saw and ph-ne-o.
These are usually translated “spirit’ in N.T.
In the very beginning (Gen 1:2) the roo’akh (spirit/ breath/wind) is moving over the surface of the waters.
In Gen 2:7 God formed Adam from “the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”
It is God who continues gives life and breath to all living things (Acts 17:25).
The breath of God is powerful; creative power and destructive power. The host of heaven was created by the breath of God’s mouth (Ps. 33:6) and the enemy was destroyed by the breath of God’s mouth (2 Sam. 22:16).
It was breath that brought the Holy Spirit to the disciples in a whole new way. In John 20:22 when Jesus came to visit his disciples after his resurrection he gave them his peace and then breathing on the disciples he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
In both Hebrew and Greek the words we use to translate breath and Spirit are often the same words.