Wander. Dawdle. Already two of my favorite words, they now seem perfect for a gap year.
For years I looked for books to help encourage my desire for a slowing down of the daily rat race. Not surprisingly, I tended to find and read them while on vacation.
One winter holiday, when one usually focuses on resolutions for the new year, I was instead leisurely enjoying a book on the wandering mind. Author Michael C. Corballis wrote, “It seems we are programmed to alternate between mind-wandering and paying attention, and our minds are designed to wander whether we like it or not.” That sure rings true in my experience.
In The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You’re Not Looking, Corballis argues that,
“Mind wandering has many constructive and adaptive features — indeed, we probably couldn’t do without it. It includes mental time travel — the wandering back and forth through time, not only to plan our futures based on past experience, but also to generate a continuous sense of who we are. Mind-wandering allows us to inhabit the minds of others, increasing empathy and understanding. Through mind-wandering we invent, tell stories, expand our mental horizons. Mind-wandering underwrites creativity, whether as a Wordsworth wandering lonely as a cloud, or an Einstein imagining himself travelling on a beam of a light.”
There is a creative purpose to wandering, daydreaming, even to boredom. Corballis uses a great deal of recent neurological research to demonstrate that memory — while important to us as humans — is not always what we make of it. He quotes American poet Marie Howe, who said, “Memory is a poet, not a historian.” The mind-wandering that is memory is more like telling a story, and the story that it tells is as often directed to the future as to the past. In other words, creativity.
Can we encourage the benefits of mind-wandering and daydreaming? Well, we can dawdle.
E.B. White once wrote, “The curse of flight is speed. Or, rather, the curse of flight is that no opportunity exists for dawdling.”
I read a good bit of White while on another vacation, near his long-time Brooklin home in Maine. The first dictionary definition of dawdle is “to waste time,” but then options such as “moving slowly and idly” are put forth, as is “languid” and “saunter.” Not surprisingly, I prefer the latter choices. In the Words of E.B. White: Quotations from America’s Most Companionable of Writers, includes gems that give hints of his preference for a life of wandering and dawdling.
- Never hurry and never worry! (Charlotte’s Web)
- If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. (E.B. White: A Biography)
- I discovered by test that fully ninety per cent of whatever was on my desk at any given moment were IN things. Only ten percent were OUT things — almost too few to warrant a special container. This, in general, must be true of other people’s lives too. It is the reason lives get so cluttered up — so many things (except money) filtering in, so few things (except strength) draining out. (One Man’s Meat)
Comedian Stephen Wright once said, “I was trying to daydream but my mind kept wandering.” This dawdling stuff is harder than you think.
Have a good week.
More to come…
Installment #7 of The Gap Year Chronicles