The Importance of Daydreaming

peachesAwhile back I wrote a column titled Getting Our Gaze Back that focused on how it important it is for the human brain to rest and recreate itself by staring blankly out the window or daydreaming. In part:

I’ve noticed about myself recently that I stare out the window and daydream when I’m desperate. The unrelenting beam of information aimed at me via the computer screen too often occupies my eyes. My gaze is clouded with data bits. The mind silts up with details, images, pleas for help, advertisements, and thousands of worthy campaigns for social change. “Life shouldn’t be this hard,” I think.

Eventually, nothing can float freely in the stream of my consciousness; everything is stuck. After some time staring at my mind-mud, I turn to the window. A psychological switch is thrown. I watch butterflies and wonder about color variations on peaches.

brainubcNow, the Big Brain Scientists at the University of British Columbia are finding out the same thing, according to Science Daily.

“Mind wandering is typically associated with negative things like laziness or inattentiveness,” says lead author, Prof. Kalina Christoff, UBC Dept. of Psychology. “But this study shows our brains are very active when we daydream – much more active than when we focus on routine tasks.”

The findings suggest that daydreaming – which can occupy as much as one third of our waking lives – is an important cognitive state where we may unconsciously turn our attention from immediate tasks to sort through important problems in our lives.

“When you daydream, you may not be achieving your immediate goal – say reading a book or paying attention in class – but your mind may be taking that time to address more important questions in your life, such as advancing your career or personal relationships,” says Christoff.

Read the whole report here.

I love it when neuroscience finally catches up with the 4000-plus-year-old discipline called Sabbath. It’s what makes us human.

Dublin: How to Pray When You Have a Desk Job

At Trinity University in Dublin, along with the Book of Kells, there were other medieval manuscripts on display. The Book of Armagh, the Book of Darrow, and (one of my favorites) the Book of Mulling were all there to ooh and aww over.

Illumination of St. John from the Book of Mulling

It is perversely comforting to find the monks and nuns of the Middle Ages wrestling over the same issues we wrestle over today. In particular, how to pray when you have a desk job.

One display case held a copy of a sermon preached at the Durham Cathedral in England sometime in the 1100s. I was really touched by the details and the craft.

Medieval Allegory of the Scribes Tools

The parchment on which we write is pure conscience;
the knife that scrapes it is the fear of God;
the pumice that smooths the skin is the discipline of heavenly desire;
the chalk that whitens it signifies an unbroken meditation of holy thoughts;
the ruler is the will of God;
the straight-edge is devotion to the holy task;
the quill, its end split in two for writing, is the love of God and of our neighbor;
the ink is humility itself;
the illuminator’s colors represent the multiform grace of heavenly wisdom;
the writing desk is tranquility of heart;
the exemplar from which a copy is made is the life of Christ;
the writing place is contempt of worldly things lifting us to a desire for heaven.

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Howth: “Spiritual Direction”

Dateline: Howth, Dublin, Ireland, overlooking the Irish Sea

The sun has poked up over Howth Head this morning and the sea is bright and blue. Howth harbor is a seal sanctuary, so the seals are rolling over slowly in the surf and the seagulls are harassing them with glee.

Last night, our writers group gathered at a local pub, Krugers, for a poetry reading by Ted Deppe from his forthcoming collection Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo Press, 2009). It’s a collection with great tenderness, wisdom, and a touching feel for the rough sides of ordinary life. I especially loved his poem “Houses of Hospitality” about Dorothy Day. I’ll try to get a copy and post it here.

In the meantime, below is one of Ted’s poems:

Spiritual Direction

Because she poked fun at the way his white robes
flew out behind him as he biked back
to the monastery for vespers

and then, recording her jokes in his journal,
he tried to recall each thing she’d said or done.

Because his hands shook when he phoned her
and later, when they walked beyond the gatehouse,
how the hills wouldn’t stop trembling–

he told himself he knew at least this much,
if the world shakes, pay attention!

Because of the long night, then, when he couldn’t not
think of her. Or the energy surging
through his ordered life, a wind

rising within him, the same energy he’d followed
long ago into the abbey, almost helpless again before it.

His reaching out of bed for his journal,
trying to describe the sound of her laughter
in the gatehouse corridor. As if God was leading him

away from the church, away even from God.
As if he was at last at the mercy.

-Theodore Deppe (from The Wanderer King).

‘O spiritual soul’ St. John of the Cross

“O spiritual soul, when thou seest thy desire obscured, thy will arid and constrained, and thy faculties incapable of any interior act, be not grieved at this, but look upon it rather as a great good, for God is delivering thee from thy self, taking the matter out of thy hands … The way of suffering is safer and also more profitable than that of rejoicing and of action. In suffering God gives strength, but in action and in joy the soul does but show its own weakness and imperfections.”–St. John of the Cross (noted in Dorothy Day’s diary for Friday, August 18, 1936).

In Harmony With God

In Harmony With God

by Rose Marie Berger

When Jesus uses it, ‘perfect’ means to be in harmony with God. To be in harmony with that dynamic change that God made part of life. Life changes. So perfection is learning to be in relationship with the changes in life. To be human we have to undergo changes. The focus is not so much on physical change as it is on spiritual change. When we choose to move closer to God, when we deepen our love and we spend more time in those kinds of thin spaces, we get a deeper sense that God loves us. But we could also choose the opposite. We could choose to move away from God. We could choose to control a kind of static world, and we could live in such a way that we resist growth at every step. Because God’s love is without limits and because we are made in God’s own image, we can never, in our human love, reach the limit of our ability to love.

Source: Radical Grace, Vol. 19, No. 2, the Center for Action and Contemplation

Add your thoughts at inward/outward..

Second Wednesday in Advent

"The Holy Thing" by Bruce Manwaring
“The Holy Thing” by Bruce Manwaring

“Everyone should open their heart very wide to joy, should welcome it and let it be buried very deeply in them; and they should wait the flowering with patience. Of course, the first ecstasy will pass, but because in real joy Christ grows in us, the time will come when joy will put forth shoots and the richness and sweetness of the person who rejoiced will be Christ’s flowering.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”Luke 1:26-28

The eight-day Jewish “Festival of Lights” called Hanukkah just concluded. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees in reclaiming the temple in Jerusalem’s from the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV. As the people prepared to dedicate the temple, they realized they only had enough purified oil to kindle the menorah for a single day. Miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days. Each evening of Hanukkah one more menorah candle is lit with a special blessing. The candles are not to be “used” for light, but only for enjoyment, savoring their beauty.

“We will prevail through the dark night,” sings Rabbi Shefa Gold in her Hanukkah song from Zechariah, “but not by might, and not by power, but by Your Spirit. These are the words of God.”

Jewish midrash tells an interesting story on how the first menorah was made. Apparently, Moses had a difficulty remembering God’s instructions on menorah making. Every time Moses left the mountain he would forget the pattern, so God engraved the design into the flesh of Moses palm. Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg says that after this experience Moses’ hands took on new power. Later, when Moses instructs Joshua to lead the Israelite force against Amalek, Moses does not direct with his staff but only his open hands. “In this gesture, according to one midrash,” writes Zornberg, “ Moses models prayer to his people fighting below. In a surrealistic description, their involvement in battle is refigured as a miming of Moses’ prayerful gestures: ‘they saw Moses kneeling down, and they knelt down, falling upon his face and they fell upon their faces, spreading their hands to heaven.’” Whenever the people modeled Moses, they prevailed.

What a powerful image of nonviolent resistance! In the midst of a battle, all the Israelites knelt down to pray as Moses instructed them. “As long as the Israelites gazed upwards and submitted their hearts to God in heaven, they would prevail,” says the Mishna Rosh Hashana, “and if not, they would fail.”

What healing of the masculine to you need in your life?

Ad … vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..