Benefits of a Wandering Mind

Words by Darren TYNAN


For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a daydreamer; ‘He’s off with the fairies’ is what people would say to me when I was a boy. Although I can be very attentive and involved with things, my mind continually wanders and I know I’m not alone.

Clinical Hypnotherapist John McGrail highlights that daydreaming often gets a bad rap because it “represents ‘not doing’ in a society that emphasizes productivity”. It’s understandable why that’s a commonly held belief considering the dominant capitalism of the Western world, but I consider daydreaming to be an entirely positive thing. I’ll explain why in the following story:

I was driving to work for the umpteenth time. I will note, with an absolute empathy for social injustice and poverty, that I was clearly in a privileged position to despise my job, because at least I had one. The fact remained that I still felt utterly empty and unfulfilled. I say this, not in a selfish or tragic sense, but in a state of self-awareness regarding the pursuit of personal goals. Money was intrinsically related, as I had to escape the prison of debt I had set myself, but it wasn’t my sole concern. My concern was one of principality.

Here I was, driving to work, to do something I didn’t care about, to earn the funds, to pay for the new car I’d convinced myself I needed, which I mostly used to get to work. There was an overwhelming predictability to the cycle and I wanted out. I noticed I was squandering a lot of money on booze and haphazard nights in town, partially to numb the inevitability of the cycle. This realisation had a kind of nauseating quality to it. It was as if I had been gradually building a prison around myself, brick by brick, oblivious to the fact, and something suddenly reminded me that I was about to enclose myself within it. I got to work with a chisel.

I’ll never forget the sneer on a past employer’s face as they remarked, ‘You’re a dreamer’. There was a sense off offbeat complacency in their voice, as their eyes darted around for validation and approval in the room. I wasn’t going to incite a debate that would inevitably result in their vehement disapproval. I had been performing my tasks as usual, although my eyes must have noticeably glazed over. Thinking back, I may as well have been disconnected from my physical self. I simply wasn’t there.

I knew this wasn’t a contained example; it had a sense of universality to it. How could we stifle someone’s imaginative integrity, while the monolithic walls of industrialisation close in? Each day, I felt like some kind of mechanical droid; I had become an abstraction of myself; a partial shadow of my own potentiality; a byproduct of introspective negligence.

Looking back, I harbor no resentment toward that person but I know that it wasn’t their intention to reinforce a sense of ‘focus’ on a mechanical task for the sake of business efficiency or to remind me of my safety. Rather, the underlying message was that they truly believed daydreaming to be an indisputably ‘bad’ thing. I now consider that just because imagination and self-reflection are not warranted within the parameters of a specific business model, doesn’t mean that they are inherently ‘unproductive’.

According to psychology professor Scott Kaufman’s Theory of Personal Intelligence, cognitive ability is important in the development and pursuit of personal goals. Kaufman explains that acts such as daydreaming are related to spontaneous forms of cognition, including intuition, the triggering of memories, and introspection. He goes on to say that mind wandering enables, “reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion”.

How can we say these things are unimportant in the development of humanity? Daydreaming enabled me to look within and realise I had subscribed to things I never actually wanted. The specifics of my situation hardly matter. What matters is that you take away a sense of critical-insight from these ideas.

Consider everything that you hold dear. Consider your values, meaningful experiences, personal goals, and ask yourself what actually matters in this world. It’s remarkably easy to forget when we’re shaped and impressed with so much bullshit.


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