I pride myself on being a multi-tasker. I bet you do too. It feels good to knock out something on my To Do List while I am giving energy to something else. I'm on hold with the cable company, I make my grocery lists. I'm waiting on the subway, I check my email. I'm in the shower, I used to learn lines and memorize song lyrics. If I have room in my brain for multiple little tasks that have nothing to do with one another, what about thoughts? Is there room in my brain for me to think more than one unrelated thought at the same time? Conflicting thoughts even?! I pass this sign in the lower east side every week and I see it differently each time. Some words resonate with me more than others depending on how my week was or who I've been spending time with that day. Can I feel love at the same time as fear? If I succumb to a depressing thought have I blown my chance of happiness? However I look at the sign, I am encouraged that all the off shooting words are attached to the same post. It affirms that I am a diverse and layered human capable of contrasting thoughts and I am always changing.
“There will come a time when you know exactly who you are, and then you discover some time later that you were wrong. This is a good thing. It means you are alive. Still curious and pushing the boundaries of who you believe yourself to be. It may be shocking to learn that the parts of you that you thought were fixed ways of being, are not. That your desire and curiosity will take you in directions you once forbid them to go…” ~ Jazz Bianci
I have a teacher who introduced me to the idea that we, as humans, can only hold one thought at a time. Her teachings were about aligning our thoughts, with our actions, and with our words. Her example was in fitness. If we are at the gym and working out and thinking, ‘What’s for lunch? I’m tired. I’m bored. I like his shoes, etc.’ Our workout isn’t going to give us focused results. She came up with a practice of connecting our thoughts to actions and words. If we think, I am strong, say I am strong as a mantra (in Sanskrit, mantra means sacred utterance), and then perform an action, like a forward punch that embodies the word strong, then we can create alignment and get more positive results (cultivating more strength!) from our workout.
For years I’ve lived my life through this philosophy. In one instant I can think one thing and in another instant think something new, but each instant has its own thought. One has to come before the other. When thoughts are stacked up in an order like that, perhaps the first one seems like it has more value. I don’t think we can rate our moods or actions or thoughts so easily. We just have to honor them as they come up, good or bad, and welcome the next one.
I recently had a conversation with a friend that looked even deeper at this teaching. We talked about multitasking and holding space for more than one thought or feeling at once. My friend lauded the pluralism of humans, that we actually can be/think/feel more than one thing at a time. She said that humans possess the extraordinary talent of simultaneously holding multiple and even conflicting views on a subject. We can want to be a vegetarian and we can also want to eat a cheeseburger. I don’t disagree that we are a multiplicity of thoughts, desires, styles, and preferences, I just think we need to recognize that they may all sit in our brains/hearts/souls at one time but when they come to our attention, they actually have to wait their turn.
I wanted to know more, so I looked it up. Most of the information I found were studies that debunked the myth of multitasking. The subjects of how we think and get things done are related and super interesting, so I went with it. Humans are not able to multitask! Our brain has the capacity to get many things done in an assigned period of time, but it is not doing two things at once. People can switch back and forth between two complex tasks (by postponing one while executing the other one), provided that the incentive of pursuing each task is large enough. I’m all for incentive, isn’t that why we do everything? But switching our attention back and forth quickly between tasks is still attending to one at a time. We prioritize, which still doesn’t imply value, it’s just choice.
Every moment the universe provides is saddled with its own set of circumstances that are going to draw certain thoughts and actions out of us, right? So who we are in each moment - observing, thinking, doing - is constantly changing. Life is a maelstrom, and instead of resisting the tides that come up, we have a better chance of staying afloat if we surrender to them. We can welcome that part of us that is showing up, not categorize it as good or bad, but give it some equal light and dark. I believe we are innately happy people and I think our brains are constantly striving for things that will provide us with as much joy as possible. And no matter if our actions, thoughts, and words show up as dark or light, positive or negative, it just means we are doing our job as humans. We’re expanding our capacity to feel things. I find this encouraging.
My goal isn’t to strive for good over bad, but to be honest with myself in each moment as things come up and act from that place. I do and say things that surprise myself all the time. I am met with good results, negative reactions, bad outcomes, positive comments. These don’t change who I am, they just confirm I am human. There is a time and place for everything and if we practice moderation, I think there is room in the world for all contrasting thoughts, words, and actions.
All of this brings me to food, of course. Some of my favorite things to eat are full of contrast! Don’t get me wrong, I love smooth and creamy things; pudding, ice cream, mashed potatoes, etc. But offer me tacos, a crunchy salad, chips or crackers and I would be stumped to have to choose between the two textured groups. The same goes with savory or sweet things, spicy and mild tastes. I like when a dish can include it all.
This week’s recipe does exactly that. Soft noodles, crunchy vegetables, a little sweet, a little salty, a little heat from the ginger…
Sesame Ginger Soba Noodles with Cabbage
This can be served chilled or at room temperature. You can add grilled tofu, shrimp, or chicken to make it a heartier dish. I cook for large groups so this a great buffet item serving 10-12.
- 12 oz box of dry soba noodles
- 1T sesame oil
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 cup green peas (blanched either fresh or from the freezer)
- 1 cup chopped scallions
- 2 cups shredded purple cabbage
- 1 cup chopped cilantro
- 1T black sesame seeds
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1T grated ginger
- 1T minced garlic
- ¼ t salt
- ¼ t ground black pepper
Prepare the noodles according to package directions, rinse in cold water, toss them with the sesame oil so the noodles won’t stick together. Gently mix in the next 6 ingredients. Combine all of the ginger vinaigrette ingredients in a jar with a lid. Secure the lid and shake vigorously to emulsify. OR you can whisk the dressing in a small bowl. Pour over the noodles and gently mix again to coat everything. I shake on some cracked red pepper flakes for a little extra spice.
food images were taken by Cheryl Stockton of Stockshot Studio.