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SHIFT TO IDLE

SHIFT TO IDLE

This Patreon-backed YouTube video, “The Power of Imagination” published in 2015 by Claw Mountain, got me thinking…..

MY BIG CONFESSION

I am an incorrigible daydreamer.

When I was a kid, of course, there were those Bigs around me who kept predicting dire consequences for the disrespectful, lazy Space Cadet who was not listening, who could not focus, who had the attention span of a flea.

I was told to concentrate.  I was told to go do something.  I was told I had to develop my Work Ethic.  I lost count of the number of times I got the Buckle-Down-and-Soldier-On speech.

I had a hard time as a kid explaining that when I was staring out the window at that rainbow, I was trying to figure out exactly where the thing began and ended and how I could get it to actually stand still so I could, maybe, race over to see what was there at either end of it.

(And, for real, which end is THE end?  Which end is the beginning?)

I was wondering how come trees just know what shape works best for them and they grow that way all by themselves (except for those cool, gnarly-looking bonsai things Mr. Matsumoto played around with).

And I was wondering whether gnats really have brains.  I mean, gee, those gnat brains must really be small, right?

And how come Mama says this, but Aunty says that, and neither one of them agrees with Uncle, but Uncle agrees with Papa and…oh, boy!

Or I wondered what would have happened if I’d been raised by animals like Mowgli or how I would survive if I was shipwrecked on a desert island like the Swiss Family Robinson and what if dragons were really real and on and on.

It was hard for me to articulate that when I was sitting there just staring off into space, I was busy figuring out things, and mostly what I wanted to know about wasn’t exactly what the Bigs said I needed to learn.

And, frankly, what those Bigs thought I needed to know was sort of…well, BORING!  Their tick-tock everyday world just didn’t sparkle all that much.

lil-daydream
“Lil Daydream” by Evan Lavine via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
These days, I’m one of the Bigs.  I know a bit about the Three R’s:  Reasoning and Responsibility and Rationality.  I know some stuff about concentrating and focus and goal-setting and persistence and follow-through and all that grown-up stuff.

I even do it…a lot.

And, still, I daydream.

daydreaming
“Daydreaming” by Paulo Valdivieso via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Anthony Carboni is featured in the YouTube video. “Don’t Stop Daydreaming!” published in 2014 by Seeker.  Carboni is a cool video-maker extraordinaire who has an…ah-hem…werewolf-thing happening in his down-time moments.

The video’s part of a series of DNews (Discovery News) videos on TestTube.

See, it ain’t such a bad thing, this daydreaming.

THE DAYDREAM BELIEVER’S WAY

Smarty-pants Scott Barry Kaufman, co-author of WIRED TO CREATE:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, is featured in this YouTube Video, “Mindful Daydreaming Enhances Creativity, Not Meditation Alone.”  It was published in 2016 by Big Think.

In this video Kaufman explains about the two main modes of thought – the planning and strategizing part we exalt in our ever-busy, get-‘er-done world, the executive attention network,” as well as the stealthier, more intuitive part of our mind that  the guys in the lab coats have named “the default mode network” which lets your mind play with possibilities.

The second one is the mode that kicks in when you’re not actively putting out fires or dodging bullets or whatever.

Guys who are into studying ancient wisdoms call it “being in the Now” sometimes or maybe “mindfulness” or “detachment.”

Regular people just call it “daydreaming.”

reflection
“Reflection” by Simon Turkas via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Kaufman points out that you need both in order to do your best creative work.

He argues that if you can balance the two ways of thinking and can toggle back and forth between them, then you break into what Kaufman calls “the imagination network,” where you can use the focusing and planning powers of your executive mode to play around in the world that lies within your very own DMZ (default mode zone).

WALKING THROUGH YOUR DMZ

Walking around inside this edge-state, where your inner world meets the world around you, is the best place that interesting, world-changing breakthroughs can happen, studies have shown.

Ancient wisdom seekers agree.

timeless-bliss-timeless
“Timeless Bliss Timeless” by Hartwig HKD [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Buddhist teacher and author Joan Halifax constructs an analogy between the various mindsets and thought-construct places in our human minds and the areas in the natural world where one ecosystem meets another.

Examples that come to mind are the areas where the edge of the forest meets the leading edge of the wetlands or where the sea meets the shore.

Standing on a high cliff overlooking a canyon is an even more dramatic example.  From that high vantage point, maybe you can even “see forever,” as an old song tells us.

As Halifax points out , “Edges are where opposites meet.”

And then she says,

“Our journey through life is one of peril and possibility—and sometimes both at once. How can we stand on the threshold between suffering and freedom and remain informed by both worlds?”

You can click here to get more of her thoughts:

click-here

 

The Lion’s Roar article is an adapted excerpt of Roshi Halifax’s book, STANDING AT THE EDGE:  Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet.

On a less esoteric level, there are all kinds of examples of how accessing your personal DMZ can lead you to major insights.

Think of that goof-off Isaac Newton, his falling apple, and his Law of Gravity and all the other “aha,” lightbulb moments that produced awesome-good ideas and insights.

Think of the young space cadet Albert Einstein working in a boring civil servant job in the Swiss patent office and his Theory of Relativity.

Think of that champion daydreaming single-mom J.K. Rowling, stuck on the Manchester to London train, and the birth of the Harry Potter books that took the world by storm.

Apparently wondering minds wander and their wandering ways produce incredible insights, understandings, and piles of creative thinks.

DAYDREAMING PRACTICE

In his book, AUTOPILOT:  The Art and Science of Doing Nothing, artificial intelligence scientist and engineer Andrew Smart makes a strong case for spending more time idling.

The only thing not so great about it is that he doesn’t tell you how to “do nothing.”  He just explains what it is and why it’s good.

As Smart says, “Through idleness, great ideas buried in your unconsciousness have the chance to enter your awareness.”

It’s ironic.  After years and years of being told to quit being such a daydreaming lazybones, it turns out that if you want to be a card-carrying creative and meaningfully productive member of post-modern society, you need to be able to climb back into that hazy, small-kid, do-nothing space where playing is the thing.

Learning how to attract prettier butterflies is the new Holy Grail.  Whoo-hoo!

Even guys in business suits have jumped on the bandwagon.

Daydream” by VOFAN via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Brian DeHuff, the co-founder and CEO of Aha!, a roadmap software company that helps products managers create business strategies and keep track of them, presented a five-step program that’s supposed to help you do daydreaming in a purposeful way to Venture Beat.  (Venture Beat is an American technology website that focuses on what they call “Tech News That Matters.”)

Here are DeHuff’s suggestions:

COMMIT TO A TIME.

DeHuff suggests blocking off a distraction-free day during your work-week and holding to it assiduously.  If you can’t devote a whole day to this, then you need to at least set up “dedicated distraction-free times” on your calendar.

You tell your team you’re unavailable during these blocks of time and then, he says, you “keep yourself accountable to the time for creative thinking.”

MAKE IT COUNT.

DeHuff says he prepares for his dedicated daydreaming day by choosing what he’s going to be tackling ahead of time.

He also measures whether the time was a success by figuring out how far he has gotten towards the preset goal.

 ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS.

DeHuff tells you to “create the ideal environment for yourself” that will help you zone-out better.  Everybody’s different, he points out, so your way won’t look like his way.

STAY DISCIPLINED.

DeHuff feels that making a habit of setting aside the time and making a supportive environment for daydreaming isn’t easy, but it will help you reach into what he calls “the flow of deep-thinking” if you keep on persevering.

CREATE SPACE FOR OTHERS.

DeHuff recommends encouraging your team members to set aside their own blocks of time, including coordinating their schedules if necessary.

Hmmm….

My own self, I think that one’s a bit too organized and focused for me.  Aren’t daydreams supposed to be more like that half-sleepy place when you get up from a nap and you are still surrounded by dream-clouds?

daydream
“Daydream” by Dome Sekoser via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
I’m not sure battle-planning a daydream would actually work for me.

Hmmm….

Try this:  Look at a blank wall.  Just stare at it.  Don’t move.  Don’t do anything for five minutes.  (You can time it with a timer if you like.)

Okay.  THAT’S the space you want.  It’s where us poets go when the world has been beating us upside the head again.  Cool, huh?

You can induce and expand that space by doing some routine task or activity like washing the dishes or making a cup of coffee or by taking a warm shower or staring out a window or going out to sit on a grassy hill and watch the clouds go by.

If you need to get up and move, you can go for a meandering walk or go for a slow jog around a block.  You might prefer to do a very slo-mo ch’i kung session or do a wild and crazy dance and spin yourself silly.

sunset-reverie
“Sunset Reverie” by John Nakamura Remy via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Let your mind go wherever it wants to.  Just do that.  Don’t work on making any sense out of the wanderings.  Just let them happen.

Practice doing that and a funny thing will start happening.

If you’ve been beating your head against some obdurate problem and making yourself run around crazy, the thoughts will go swirling around in there, bumping into each other.

Let them.

After a while, if you’re lucky, you’ll fall into a reverie, where all the thoughts quiet down and the only thing left is a kind of white noise roaring in your head.

That’s when you’ll find that hazy space.  Take a breath or three.  Rest yourself in there.

Sometimes, after you’ve been there for a while, an idea will pop up.

Grab it.  Quick!  Write it down.  Maybe it’ll be just the thing you need to get you past all that nose-to-the-grindstone slogging.

And wouldn’t that be a wondrous thing?

Here’s a poem:


WIND THOUGHTS

Wind carves into mountain faces

Sculpting them into fantastic forms.

Wind pushes towering clouds all across the sky,

Or decorates it with pretty feather-clouds that

Settle into thick cloud duvets after a while.

Wind twists and bends trees into macro-bonsai shapes

Or wanders through meadows barely brushing against

The flowers in the grasses.

Gentleness of the breeze ruffling wavelets,

Across the face of still water;

Power in the hurricane,

Uprooting and tossing around anything in its path.

Wind makes changes,

Sometimes slow, sometimes swift,

But ever and always.

Wind can be blocked,

But it is never really stopped,

And the stirrings of butterfly wings, they tell me,

Can start the spinning of a hurricane someplace else.

Wind is the breath of the World,

Circulating through its body

In never-ending patterns,

Always changing, always the same.

 

Gee….

I wonder if the World

Knows how to do ch’i kung?

by Netta Kanoho

Photo credit:  “Midwinter’s daydream” by Natalia Medd via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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SOLITUDE

SOLITUDE

Twyla Tharp, in her book, THE CREATIVE HABIT:  Learn It and Use It For Life, says, “It’s not solitude that slays a creative person.  It’s all that solitude without a purpose.  You’re alone, you’re suffering, and you don’t have a good reason for putting yourself through that misery.  To build up your tolerance for solitude, you need a goal.”

ALONE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LONELY

“Alone” is a fact when there’s nobody else around.  “Lonely” is how you feel about it.  They are not the same thing.

Some people are actually autophobic (afraid to be alone).  They need people around them or they start feeling like they have disappeared.  They feel lost without at least one other person around to let them know they are not invisible.  The problem is, of course, that if you are not able to tolerate being alone, you will probably not be able to hear your own heartsong.  And if you can’t hear your own heartsong, how can you follow it?

In this YouTube Video, “How To Be Alone” was directed, shot, animated by hand and edited by filmmaker Andrea Dorfman.  The poem is performed by its Maker, Tanya Davis who is a poet, singer and songwriter.  It is a lovely piece of work.

DAY-TRIPPIN’

Twyla suggests remembering how to daydream — just sitting in a room all by yourself and letting your thoughts wander wherever they will.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  When you were a kid you used to get into trouble doing this.  You’re a Big Person now; it’s allowed.

This is not the same thing as sitting meditation.  You’re not trying to empty out your mind.  You don’t want to sit restfully between thoughts.  What you’re doing is lying in wait, trying to capture the butterfly thoughts that come wandering out of your unconscious.  You’re trying to tease them forward until you can swoosh them up in your butterfly net so you can examine them more closely.

If you have problems with being alone, you have to build up your tolerance for solitude first.  Do this “quietness without loneliness” for a minute, Twyla says.  (Anybody can handle one minute of daydreaming.)  Work up to ten minutes a day of this mindless mental wondering.

Then start paying attention to your thoughts.  Try to see if a word or a picture or some other interesting thing surfaces out of all that blankness.  If not, keep on daydreaming, extending out the time until you find the length of time you need to stay in that space before something interesting pops into your head.

When an idea sneaks into your brain, get engaged with it.  Play with it, push it around.  You’ve acquired a goal to underpin this solitary activity.  You are not alone any more.  Your goal, your idea is your companion.

Says Twyla, “You are never lonely when your mind is engaged.”

MAXIMIZING PRODUCTIVITY

Here’s a YouTube video posted by Big Think, “The Psychology of Solitude:  Being Alone Can Maximize Productivity.” In it, Scott Barry Kaufman, the co-author of WIRED TO CREATE:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, explains how solitude benefits and nurtures your propensity for Making.

Here’s a poem:


SARDINE THOUGHTS

There are times when I must sit in the quiet by myself

Times I must be still and separate.

So many people swim through my days that

It is all I can do to keep myself intact.

Like sardines, we are packed together,

All our juices mingling as

Together we get all soft and mooshy,

Slowly falling apart.

 

It occurs to me that sardines

Flash in the stray sunbeams,

Cutting through the waters where they swim.

Could it be that solitude

Helps me find the oceans I can swim through,

Keeps me from drowning in other people’s needs?

 

Maybe that’s the Real:

Sardines congregate in crowds;

It’s just what they do.

They’re little fish, after all,

And there’s that “safety-in-numbers” thing.

 

“One-of-many” means chances are you can slip away

Before the big fish gets you.

(Your little-fish strategy’s success

Probably depends on placement and on happenstance:

Too close to the edge and the big guys can notice you;

Too close to the middle and a net can scoop you up.)

 

And, yet, in that big school of little guys

Each one swims alone,

Doing one-fish things,

Making one-fish moves.

It seems to me that solitude helps you remember that.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Surf’s Up by K. Kendall via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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