I had an old, eccentric washing machine when I lived in a little apartment many years ago. Every time I heard it enter its final spin cycle, I knew the onboard plasma induction engines were efficiently processing antimatter for the relativistic hyperdrive.
That daydream captured me dozens of times.
I love looking out the window. Wherever I may be there are stories and discoveries in the imagined possibilities right outside the glass. The stillness of being an observer, in watching the world closely, fills me with possibilities and fuels me for creative pursuits. But I must confess that the act of paying close attention to deep observations requires a little more concerted effort for me these days than in years past. More to the point, I’ve found that my thousand meter stare into some imagined reality lasts less and less long. It’s a paradox: daydreams generally mean that you’ve suspended concerted effort for a moment, that you’re awake but dreaming. Amid the churn and bustle and actual competition for viable neurons these days, I find that suspending conscious effort for a few minutes is a rare thing. How bizarre: I have to consciously work at keeping my brain from working! It takes lots of strength to let myself drift aimlessly for a few minutes, and the funny thing is that I seem to recall those untethered flights coming more easily in days past.
Do you even remember what a daydream feels like? So many people use every waking moment these days to look at an electronic device, seeking input from sources other than their own senses. This, of course, presents an interesting contradiction because all of those data flooding in to our brains had to originate somewhere. There had to be someone somewhere who somehow used a portion of his or her senses to acquire those data sui generis, or at least create whatever it is we’re consuming all day long. But for people on the receiving end – – that's the rest of us throughout the day – – we seem to have forgotten the exquisite value of not having something literal to consume.
Think about that for a moment. Do you remember what you used to do when you were waiting at the supermarket checkout prior to smartphones? Sometimes we would glance at magazines in the racks. (Remember printed magazines?) Sometimes we might look around the store. Sometimes we’d talk to the people in line with us. Often we’d simply wait our turn. But now? We’re checking our email, texting our spouses or kids, looking at Facebook and wondering why our life isn’t as beautiful or exciting as all of the colorful alternatives that seem only a click away.
That’s why daydreaming has gotten more precious. We begin to dream when we’re not consuming new inputs. When we dream, we make intangible connections among the various bits of information that we’ve consumed or experienced at some other time, in some other place. Conversely, when we fill our days with endless information, even if that information is educational or valuable or entertaining, we risk diminishing our ability to make our own observations about the world. That ultimately dulls our ability to think about what we know. If we’re the kind of people who know that our engagements with the world are secure, and that external influences are always going to be vital, daydreams are not wasted moments. Daydreams are the intermediate synthesis of experiences. Daydreams take experiences and help them sink deep into the soil of our lives. Flooded with endless information we face challenges in absorbing any single bit of it too deeply, and our abilities to perceive and understand the world decline.
Here’s an irony: I’m declaring my concern about this by this while typing away at one of those newfangled, fantastically illuminated devices, my beloved laptop. I couldn't function without it; don’t even try to take it from me! But I also know there are times of the day where I simply won't pick up my smart phone, my computer, or any other electronic device simply because I want to be with my own thoughts. I demand that for myself, even as sometimes I have to struggle not to do the easy thing and click on something shiny. But I know this much is true: my time away from endless electronic inputs is what allows light to fill me. When I hear the birds with my own ears while walking outside, without some electronic interface to present a competing sensory experience, I’m more in touch with the reality of those birds, the trees, and the air around us all. I fear this is a fading cultural ability and a fading cultural value, but they’re things we can bring back into practice if we only give them a moment's conscious thought.
Your daydream is not a waste of time unless its the place where you spend most of you waking time. A full time daydreamer is someone who can’t function effectively or sensitively in the real world. But presuming that you can keep things in balance, be sure to look deeply into the middle distance when you mind begins to wander. Don’t push your daydream away. In that fabulous, wholly invented space, you may be able to seize some of your best insights and creative clarity.