Recently in my theology class, we were considering what it means to be part of the millennial generation in the United States. One descriptor that we circled around was “multi-tasker.” Millennials are skilled at doing many things at the same time. Technology has helped us squeeze the most out of every minute – multiple windows on our laptops connect us to an array of news sources, chat rooms, Word documents, e-mail accounts, Blackboard classrooms and Facebook pages. Millenials on the Hilltop bounce from one activity to the next in a dizzying array of clubs, teams, group projects, social events and internships.

Though too old to be a millennial, I see the allure of multi-tasking. There is too much to do, too little time. I sit on a stationary bike at Yates Field House, pedaling away, listening to [NPR news]( on my Walkman (a relic of an age before iPods) and reading a magazine ([Newsweek](, [The Economist](, and – although I would not admit it publicly – [People](, if I can find a discarded copy around the gym).

At work, I often talk on the phone while keeping up with ever-incoming e-mails. I delay calling family or friends until I’m connected to my Bluetooth on a long car ride. University Information Services’ Oracle Calendar partitions my day into neat little green blocks of time – one appointment, meeting, class or meal after another.

All this efficiency and productivity – but at what price? At what cost, all this clutter and noise?

At the beginning of the “Spiritual Exercises,” St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, reminds us that what fills and satisfies the human soul is not knowing many things, but instead understanding profoundly what we know and savoring such things deeply. In other words, God has created us to go deep rather than to be spread thin.

Intuitively, we realize the value of going deep. We know the difference between cramming for an exam and taking the time to really learn the material. Cramming leaves us empty once we have regurgitated facts, figures and formulas, while learning continues to fill us after the grade is given. We know the difference between superficial chats and deeper conversations. Too many of the first leave us very lonely; just a few of the second fill the soul.

The risk of skimming through life is that we can have the experience but miss the meaning because we are rushing off to the next thing to do. We become shallow, restless, frantic or dissatisfied because we are created to go deep. The measure of a human person is not the number of Facebook friends, majors and concentrations, honors and awards, meetings made or books read. Instead, the individual finds ultimate meaning in savoring profoundly and delighting deeply in the moment: in what they are doing, reading, learning, noticing, eating, hearing, feeling – right now.

Ignatius simplified the lesson for us: age quod agis (“do what you are doing,” according to one translation). Thich Nhat Hanh, a contemporary Buddhist monk, makes the same point plainly in “The Miracle of Mindfulness”: “While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes.” The point is not simply to make us more focused but more content. The most ordinary people and mundane moments are avenues of grace. God is constantly trying to get our attention, but do we even notice or are we just too busy running around?

The “Spirit of Georgetown” banners around campus declare that at Georgetown, we aspire to be as the early Jesuits once defined themselves, “contemplatives in action.” In the midst of all the activity on the Hilltop, we are challenged to be reflective, mindful and intentional about what we are doing.

Henry David Thoreau retreated from his home in Concord, Mass. to Walden Pond because he wished to “to live deep and suck the marrow out of life.” Though we do not have a Walden Pond at Georgetown, we do have the Potomac, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Dahlgren Quadrangle and Dahlgren Chapel to help us live deeply. We have great books to savor and amazing people to get to know. We have countless moments in a day that can become retreats if we power down our laptops, take off our earphones, close our windows (the computer kind) and do what we are doing.

Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1988 and is executive director of campus ministry. He can be reached at As This Jesuit Sees It. appears every other Friday, with Frs. Schall, Maher and O’Brien alternating as writers.

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