Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

The Lost Art of Daydreaming

Looking out the window as tree boughs weighed down by snow and ice, my thoughts drifted idly. I was daydreaming.

looking-out-windowWhen we were kids, daydreaming was a fixture in our lives. It was a sure way to get a teacher’s attention. “Stop daydreaming, Gary,” she would shout.

My teacher would be happy. Hardly anyone daydreams anymore.

My friend Mark Koenigsberg recounted a recent trip on the bus in Portland, when he noticed  he was the only one of 12 passengers to look out the window. Everyone else was glued to a smartphone or tablet.

His observation stuck with me. The next day when I went to a downtown Starbuck’s at mid-day, I was struck that everyone (other than the baristas) had their head stuck in an electronic device. I only noticed it after I raised my head from my iPhone while waiting in line to order.

The phenomenon has reached such cultural normalcy that ads now play off it. There is the Chevrolet commercial where a driver gets no answer from his three smartphone-focused co-passengers when he asks where they want to go to lunch and the frustrated boyfriend who has to text his girlfriend sitting next to him to get her attention for his Valentine gift.

Our intense involvement with technology may not be a triumph of discipline over sloth. Instead, it may reflect the loss of unstructured mental time.

Daydreaming is associated with idle thought, but in fact giving our brains free rein to wander may be the best path to insight. At least neuroscientists who study brain function think so.

It takes different brain muscles to squint at a small screen and divine meaning from web surfing, reading email or playing electronic games than it does to daydream. If I understand the science, daydreaming involves a wider range of the brain, allowing synapses that are unplanned and produce unexpected results – that flash of epiphany.

Eureka moments don’t occur every time you daydream. But they certainly can’t occur without a little time for daydreaming.

Flying on a plane, waiting in line and sitting out a snowstorm provide mundane moments  to let your brain unwind and plow its own ground. Instead of wasting time, a daydream is more like a brain vacation that can lead to increased productivity.

In daydreams, your brain can imagine reality reworked. You don’t have to do something, you get to be a spectator in the theater of your mind.

“We are under constant pressure to do, achieve, produce and succeed,” says a Los Angeles hypnotherapist. Daydreaming gives us that respite to look beyond what is to what could be, even what we would like it to be.

As most of our teachers would readily attest, we are natural daydreamers. It isn’t a skill we have to learn. All we have to do is put away out smartphones and look out the window.

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