Spring 2015 Newsletter: Multitasking!

15 Mar 2015 12:22 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)


March 2015


Dear Friends,

I recently read an interesting article on multitasking. The author quotes William James, the 19th century "father of American psychology," as saying:

“Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought.”

I was fascinated by the idea that in 1890 everyone knew what attention is. I'm not sure we know what attention is now. Or maybe we know but we don't give that knowing much priority. We certainly don't pay a lot of attention to how we use our attention. So often we just let impulses and stimuli of all kind grab our attention as we jump from a task, to checking our phone, to a conversation, to some kind of interesting and stimulating "content." (It seems we're besieged all the time with "content.")

And then James goes on:

“Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.”

This passage really struck me. Withdrawal. How important it is to turn off the surrounding stimuli so we can focus. It seems to me that when we sit down to attend to a task we rarely take this preparatory step. We focus harder on the task, but it doesn't occur to us to withdrawal from everything else. What if we miss something important?

She goes on in this well written article to talk about how we may be becoming physically addicted to the stimulus of the new and and interesting little things. And that what seems like "multi-tasking" - doing multiple things at once - is really always doing one thing at a time, but in the blur of switching rapidly back and forth between multiple activities it seems to us like we're doing them all simultaneously. And the more things we're doing, the more we're switching and dividing attention. And this has a cost.

Then a few days later I experienced that cost directly.

I was getting ready for one of my weekly overnight trips to teach in Seattle. This particular trip involved a few variations on the what's been typical of late. Equipment for a new class starting Tukwilla had to be loaded and thought through. A meeting at the Port of Seattle. Another meeting with colleagues. For each step I wanted to be sure I'd have what I need. These overnight work trips to Seattle are working out fine but if you're 100 miles from home and you forget something....

And so my mind was full of these logistical details and there was a time count down running. My first meeting at 2:30pm. It's usually one-and-a-half hour drive, allow two or two-and-a-half. Calculating that: leave at noon ideally, 12:30pm is okay. A few errands still to do, some packing. And inevitably running a little behind. Recalculating the leaving time, rethinking each step of the journey. Do I have everything? Do I still have time for that last errand at Fred Meyer? Realized that I could skip that errand, go on the way home the next day. A little feeling of elation about being flexible there, not being too dogged. Adjusting to reality. 12:30pm now, that's still okay right? Recalculating the timing. Again. Did I need 20 yoga mats or 30? 

You get the picture.

Finally on the road a little after 12:30pm looking down I see I'd better get gas. And a desire for a coffee to sip as I drive arose. Is there time for both? I remembered that there's a Cruisin' Coffee right next to the Skagit Casino Gas Station. Then another happy thought: we have 1/2 off coupons for Cruisin' Coffee! Great!

Pulling into the gas station, again my mind on the time. I have a bright idea. Go to the pump on the right side and just walk across the driveway there to get the coffee while the gas is pumping. (I know...it made sense to  at the time). So I get the little lever on the gas pump in the right position, grab my coupon on go over with my favorite travel mug. The coupon's still good! Awesome, $1.25 for a 12 oz. latte. Nice. This is all working out.

I get back in the turn turn the key and start to drive away. 


What was that? Looking back something looks wrong. Side view mirror. A kind of snake-like object on the ground. The gas hose. I had not pulled the nozzle out. I had not completed the action of pumping gas. Multi-tasking. My attention had not made it back to that task in progress, the next task of "drive to Seattle" was much more compelling. Attention divided too many ways.

Oh dear. Standing behind the car. Watching the mind process this sight. A sight I'd never seen before. Feeling everything shift. Would I make it to Seattle at all now? Tightness in the chest, elevated breathing. A mild fight or flight reflex which landed on flight. Is anybody looking at me? Would they notice? I'm reminded now of the research that suggests that the pre-frontal cortex shuts down a bit when the stress response engages. But in this case it kicked back in soon enough: no you can't just drive away. 

It all worked out - turns out gas pumps are designed to handle this eventuality and there's a coupling with a built in valve to prevent gas spills. And in the end I even made it to my first appointment in Seattle exactly on time. 

But wow, the power of attention. There was no longer a gas nozzle in my car in the world my mind was maintaining. Driving away made perfect sense. KA-CHUNK.

To watch me telling the whole story to the mindfulness class the next day, including the surprising response of the gas station manager please follow this link to the video. [I'm told it's pretty funny to watch!]

Happy Spring,


Regional Mindfulness Retreat

April 10-12   Skagit Valley


Expanded Offerings for Physicians:

Seattle, Kirkland,

Wenatchee, Mount Vernon

Our weekend mindfulness retreats in the Skagit Valley have been a delight. A chance to really disengage for a weekend. One participant from Seattle said simply driving across the Skagit Flats to this beautiful site on Samish Island was a stress reduction course all in itself. Great food. Simple, clean accommodations. The support of silence and disengaging for the weekend.

We warmly invite everyone who's taking mindfulness classes or has some meditation experience to deepen and renew their practice with us.

Scholarships for military veterans are available.

Details here, a few inspiring pictures here.Please join us!
Our partnership with Washington Physicians Health Program (WPHP) is expanding. Classes are available at modest cost for physicians, dentists, veterinarians, physician assistants and podiatrists (and in the Wenatchee workshop all other health care professionals).

Seattle Classes - Wednesdays and Thursday evenings downtown Seattle at WPHP. April 8/9 - May 6/7.

Kirkland Class  - Monday evenings, Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland. April 20 - May 18.

Mount Vernon Class  - Tuesday evenings, Skagit Valley Hospital, April 28 - May 19.

Wenatchee Workshop - Saturday April 25th, Confluence / Wenatchee Valley. Mindfulness East of the Mountains!
Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (Bellingham) Wednesday afternoons April 6 - May 27

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention is a novel treatment approach developed at the University of Washington. Mindfulness practices increase awareness of triggers, habitual patterns, and automatic reactions.  

Details on MBRP relapse prevention here.

New Introductory Class for the Bellingham Community - April 27 - May 18

We've added another section of our more accessible version of MBSR, the Introduction to Mindfulness class, includes 4 classroom meetings and a Saturday retreat.  Details and Registration.
15 CEU course for therapists and others in the healing professions (Bellingham)

On Thursday evenings in Bellingham starting April 16th our Mindfulness for the Healing Professions course returns.

Topics include: What is mindfulness? Body awareness and stress response. Mindfulness intervention delivery. Developing and maintaining a home practice. 

Enjoy science, poetry, practice, and conversation in a community of professionals as we consider how we can strengthen our own sense of presence and support those we work with mindfully and with mindfulness practices. 

Downloadable Graphic Flier and see the information / registration page.

More Seattle Mindfulness Workshops
with King County's Training & Development Institute

Join us for:
Mindful at Work: An Introduction to Mindfulness  April 7, 8:30am - 12:00pm

which can be taken with

Mindful Communication
April 7, 1:00pm - 4:30pm

Both at the King County Administration building, downtown Seattle. The last round of these half-day trainings was really fun.
Upcoming Events from Members of our Community Teachers program
Seattle Area Centers 
Awake & Alive: Mindful Living with Cancer Retreat with Erica Rayner-Horn LMHCA
March 30th – April 3rd. Whidbey Institute

Just a few spaces left in this life-affirming, empowering retreat. We welcome anyone with any type of cancer, at any stage, who’s interested in learning tools to alleviate stress, live with more ease and acceptance and explore their own unique healing journey with cancer.
Cultivating Compassionate Balance classes with Amy Colvin
8-Week In-Person Series - Starts 3/16 Bellevue 

8-Week In-Person Series - Starts 4/16 Anacortes

8-Week In-Person Series - Starts 6/15 Bellevue

Become a better friend to yourself…to be a better friend to others. Engage your inner critic with compassion by embracing acceptance for self and others...Mindful Self-Compassion with Sara Baldwin Winter classes have begun, checkSara's website for upcoming classes. 

Are you a local teacher interested in listing your classes with us? Please see theCommunity Teachers membership page.
Mindfulness Northwest is mostly doing institutional and medical professionals work in Seattle currently. We do hope to offer more Seattle community open classes soon.

But in the meantime please check out these other fine sources for mindfulness training.

Seattle Mindfulness Center -www.SeattleMindfulnessCenter.com 
6306 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103 

UW Center for Child & Family Well-beingdepts.washington.edu/ccfwb/ 

Samaritan Center of Puget Sound -www.samaritanps.org
564 NE Ravenna Blvd, Seattle, WA 98115

Do you know of other sources of high quality mindfulness classes open to the community? 

Please let us know atoffice@mindfulnessnorthwest.com.

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