I was just thinking about… Reveling in reverie
By Janice Lindsay
My desk window overlooks our deck. As I opened my laptop to write just now, I gazed out the window and was distracted by the sight of a fuzzy, grayish caterpillar, in the rain, inching its way (or, more accurately, quarter-inching its way) across the seat of a deck chair.
I can’t make out its features but I know that even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to identify what moth or butterfly it will become. I’ve had no luck doing that with other caterpillars, as uninformed as I am about moths and butterflies. I wonder how it arrived on the deck, and where it thinks it’s going. What will become of it, so far from any food source?
Then I pull my attention back to the subject I intended to write about: distractibility. Before my attention was diverted by the caterpillar, I had read an article about being distracted, whether it’s a good thing or not.
According to a report in the usually reliable Wall Street Journal, a study of college students indicates that being able to focus totally on the task at hand, while it’s often necessary, doesn’t always help the thinker devise a problem’s most creative solution. Apparently, if you can’t filter out all external stimuli, you let everything in, and you’re more apt to be open to a wide variety of ideas and solutions. “Those undergrads who had a tougher time ignoring unrelated stuff,” writes Jonah Lehrer, “were also seven times more likely to be rated as ‘eminent creative achievers’ based on their previous accomplishments.”
And here am I, always trying to be such a good focuser — by the way, now my stubbly friend is crawling down a chair leg — but apparently I shouldn’t have tried so hard. Probably I could be much more creative if I didn’t concentrate so intensely!
Which brings me to another subject I read about today. Daydreaming. Daydreaming seems like laziness, though this article in The Week says most of us spend about a third of our waking hours doing it. And guess what! Magnetic resonance imaging machines show that all kinds of activity occur inside our brains when we feel as if we’re goofing off.
Somewhere, in school right now, sits a young person, not paying attention in class, engaged in private reverie and, perhaps unknown even to herself, figuring out how to bring about world peace.
Which brings me to the final subject I intended to address today before I was distracted — I’ve lost sight of my friend, probably it’s upside down underneath the seat — silence, for we daydream in silence.
Psychologist James Hillman theorizes that the U.S. is becoming more and more illiterate because, during our school years, we have fewer and fewer opportunities for silent, solitary study: “silent study halls and quiet periods, solitary homework, learning by heart, listening through a whole class without interruptions, writing an essay exam in longhand….”
“Reading,” he writes, “depends on the psyche’s capacity to enter imagination. Reading is more like dreaming, which, too, goes on in silence.”
And, I might add, reading is like daydreaming. They both plant you in a silent world of your own creating, unlike anybody else’s silent world.
So probably we could all be more creative, more literate, and of greater benefit to society if we each spent more time alone, in silence, thinking our own thoughts, daydreaming our own daydreams, and — I think I’d better see if that caterpillar is okay.
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