To daydream or not to daydream . . . and why do we have to make that choice? Yet we get conflicting messages on this all the time. In the abstract, we tend to admire traits such as creativity and imagination, yet we're constantly told to focus, to live in the present moment and not think about the future or the past, to be mindful only of what is and not what could be. According to a Buddhist philosophy: "The one way to man's peace, fulfillment and release lay through the calm control of his own mind and senses . . . the realization that life's meaning lay in the here-and-now and not in some remote realm or celestial state far beyond one's present existence."
I wonder, given the human propensity to daydream, if this goal is possible for most of us. Some go to great lengths to free themselves from the turmoil of their minds. Zen monks and nuns isolate themselves in monasteries and convents and devote themselves to meditation and prayer. Practitioners of extreme sports such as rock climbing hang from cliffs by their fingertips because it forces them to live in the moment, to finally be free of the barrage of thoughts and scenarios playing out in their head.
But can we do it all the time? And would we want to? Think of slavery--under the "focus only on the present moment" directive, slaves would be locked in their slave tasks instead of dreaming of escape.
Are we denying some aspect of our humanity by trying to banish our daydreaming natures? We wouldn't have art, invention, philosophy, progress, or spirituality without it. The ability to imagine is the key to invention, problem solving, and discovery. That's why some scientists are trying to teach computers how to daydream, to make them more humanlike and more dynamic, something able to move beyond the limitations of task and the present.
I am not anti-focus, anti-present moment, or anti-meditating by any means. I'm a happy practitioner of all of the above. It's wonderful and fulfilling to calm the mind, to open your eyes to the present, to reap the results of focused action, or to be swept up in the flow of concentration. I'm "just sayin'" that we don't have to pit one state of mind against the other--idolizing the present, focused mind while demonizing the mind's capacity to take off on imaginative forays. If we can't achieve a perfect balance, we can at least accept a certain dichotomy. To paraphrase that old folk song--there is a time to be present and a time to conceptualize, a time to be still and a time to create, a time to be productive and a time to be dreamy. One refreshes and invigorates the other.
When we understand how our minds work, we can have the best of both worlds. Maybe that is the "calm control" that Eastern philosophers speak of--becoming aware of our various and very human states of mind, and instead of fighting them, learning to understand them and use them to our advantage.
For more on daydreaming, check out my book
Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers
or visit my www.DaydreamsAtWork.com website.
copyright Amy Fries
photo credit: istock.com/risamay