Images from an airplane window.

Images from an airplane window.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

Right now I am sitting and staring out an airplane window. I find airplanes to be one of my most productive environments. Revelations and insights often flood my consciousness while in flight. Why is this a creative space? One could mention that the potential of a new place or an exciting adventure might spawn new ideas. Agreed, but when traveling for work, perhaps it’s not always filled with anticipation! So how do these ideas or resolutions come to me? First, I write while I’m in flight. Often it is free-form spewing of ideas, thoughts, problems and emotions. But the other common activity is gazing out the airplane window (you are either an aisle or a window person – window for me, every time). I might be observing the parts of the aircraft, looking down upon the world below imagining people moving through their worlds, pondering an issue, contemplating life or simply staring into the clouds.

Images from an airplane window.

Images from an airplane window.

It’s downtime. Time to let the brain wander and not be actively engaged in problem solving or formulating solutions and ideas. We spend most of our days actively and purposefully engaged in direct, linear thinking. But these moments of passive thought are the ones that often lead to insights. It’s why so many creative types think best while in a hot shower, taking a walk, driving, or simply staring into the sky. It’s the power and necessity of daydreaming. Jonah Lehrer wrote a book about creativity titled Imagine. Lehrer mixes scientific facts and studies with personal observations to analyze the ideal environments for creativity. He studies successful artists and companies like Pixar and Apple. There are some common threads I find emerging throughout the many books I have read on the creative process. One important condition often cited is the ability to shift into passive thinking. This isn’t turning the brain off, but letting it wander and move at its will. Daydreaming. This brain state is essential to the creative process.However, contemplate for a moment the public perception of this activity. Have you ever noticed the negative connotations that go along with the idea of dreaming in our society? That’s a pipedream. He must be dreaming. She’s a daydreamer. Living in a dreamworld. Children in school are told to pay attention and stop staring out the window. But research (and for years primitive cultures) have understood the importance of a shifted state of mind, outside the normal consciousness, at any level.

For our purposes. let’s focus on the idea of daydreaming. What’s happening during this state and how do we benefit from it? Shelly Carson, Harvard research scientist and author of the brilliant book, Your Creative Brain, describes this as the Absorb brainset. Carson has spent decades studying creative individuals and how the brain is behaving during the many phases of creativity. She identifies that this state is essential to the creative process because it allows for new ideas to flow in without judgement. It also allows us to make connections between thoughts, objects or ideas that we might not otherwise make. And lastly, we are receptive to information coming from the subconscious.

Images from an airplane window.

Images from an airplane window.

“Neuroimaging studies clearly indicate that people are in this open and receptive state immediately before the moment of insight.“ – Carson.

This state tells the over-thinking and controlling parts of the brains to back off, take a break, lay low. This in turn allows the frequently passive parts of the brain to absorb information, again without consciously judging and evaluating the value of that information. The editing switch is turned off so more kinds of ideas and connections can flow freely. It is these moments of pure daydreaming without filters that so often lead to solutions, revelations or the ‘aha’ moments. It’s the light bulb going on, the apple hitting Newton on the head as he rested under the tree. Beethoven was said to have taken a walk every day with a notepad in his pocket.

“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer – say, traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep: it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, i know not; nor can I force them.” – Mozart

There is a time for pushing through a problem or potential idea actively. But let’s not neglect the other valuable state of thinking, the passive, open, non-judgemental act of pure daydreaming. So consider a moment alone, to look out a cafe window, lie on a blanket to stare up at the clouds, or simply close your eyes and imagine.

Eileen Rafferty

One thought on “DAYDREAMING.

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Barry Grivett

Thanks so much for contributing this article and reminding me how important daydreaming is. I’m one of those people who over-think just about everything & going for daily walks is the one way I can clear my mind.

Unfortunately, I’ve gotten out of that routine what with some health issues; with those pretty much resolved for now, your article has reminded me how important those walks are.

And, I too have carried a note pad for as long as I can remember to jot down items– including from moments of clear-thinking.

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