Day dreaming should be placed on the ‘quality of life’ index quotes Michael Harris, author of ‘Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World’. So important is it for the mind to have time to idle (not be idle!) it should be an essential part of being human.
Day dreaming generally doesn’t get a good press and is usually associated with laziness. When I was a child I remember being chastised for it. I was often told off for wasting time and not being productive. Running around at the local recreation ground was fine. Devouring books, doing my homework and helping with the washing up were all accepted, if not insisted upon. Sitting around ‘doing nothing’ was seen as somehow suspicious and I was usually directed to ‘go and find something to do’. Perhaps in our largely secular culture we still believe the Christian message ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’.
Even in meditation a lot of emphasis can be put on the effort we use. ‘Doing’ something. Paying attention to something such as the breath. Or ‘cultivating’ loving kindness. Day dreaming in meditation is not seen as a productive way to spend an hour a day. It won’t help you get Enlightened. Or will it?
Of course, making an effort is essential in meditation, albeit, the right sort of effort. The quality of effort is of such a subtle balance that the Buddha apparently said that we are working with ‘right effort’ until the moment of Enlightenment. Intentionality too is important in directing the mind towards an object so it can calm and stabilise. But once it’s calm another aspect of mind is highly significant: we need openness and relaxation of mind. This, at times, can be akin to the day dreaming mind, which at its best wanders freely, but has some idea what is happening within it.
Most likely we experience this type of open mind outside of formal meditation, when we stare out to sea entranced with the point where ocean and sky meet, or lie in a wild flower meadow on a blue sky day. (Whether we make time for these things is another matter!) Or when we hear a poem without understanding it cognitively but knowing the ‘truth’ it is expressing. We let the mind loose whilst we’re just able to keep an eye on it. Awareness without control.
Harris quotes Albert Einstein as saying “the day dreaming minds ability to link things is the only pathway towards fresh ideas”. We day dream or gently follow our musings, ambling along a streamside path, to go beyond the limits of the rational mind. We let the mind roam without limit to discover new pathways. It’s well known that the scientific breakthroughs Einstein and Isaac Newton made, didn’t just come from the many hours of striving and thinking, but from being willing to inhabit the wilderness of not knowing. Einstein had confidence in this process saying ‘ the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.’
If we can bring this deep openness and relaxation, as well as confidence, to follow our musings, this has implications for meditation. When we set up the conditions for wisdom we are looking to go beyond what we know. It’s helpful to recognise that because we then stop trying to think our way to Nirvana. We live with the question: how can I discover something, the nature of which is unknown to me? We have to allow ourselves to let go, to be ‘lost’ to go beyond the known.
This is aided through allowing the mind to idle, having times of solitude where we can be free to think our own thoughts, follow through our own musings, make ultra-fine mental connections to intuit that leap between known and completely unknown. We need to escape the hyper-vigilance of the rational mind. The mind that always wants to know, to control and direct and brings everything back to ‘me’.
So, perhaps daydreaming alone won’t get you Enlightened but giving the non-rational and non-utilitarian side of your being some energy may well help. Learn to draw or play a musical instrument. Spend time alone and in nature. Give your rational mind time off to play.
And, above all, practice being present and aware with a delicate butterfly touch.