Musings on Meditation vs. Daydreaming and the Process of Creation
The birth of an idea. The dawn of a new creation. I feel most alive when I welcome something new out of the aether and allow it to be. But, this is only the beginning of creation. If I don’t devote my best effort, taking time to nurture the idea to its potential, it will remain in its infancy, given no chance to live the full life it deserves.
Last night, I watched a few episodes of David Lynch’s delightful Masterclass. In it, he addresses the sources of creative block and how to free the mind from its symptoms to unlock the flow of creative ideas. He proselytizes for meditation and insists that we carve out time for daydreams. This gave me pause. Distinguishing between these two states — meditation and daydreaming — has become of utter importance to me. The following is my first attempt at doing so:
During meditation, we are practicing techniques that help us become restfully alert in the present moment. On the other hand, while daydreaming, we allow our mind to completely de-focus and wander to distant times and places, often far from the present. A seemingly stark contrast between the two.
While practicing meditation, and learning to revere presence, I became confused about the role of daydreams. After all, meditation seems to live on a societal pedestal, while daydreaming gets a bad rap. We refer to meditation as a method to “achieve enlightenment,” while daydreaming is known as “Getting lost.” At first, I felt that my contemplative and focus-based mindfulness meditation practices were bolstering previous conditioning to ‘get my head out of the clouds.’ Perhaps, to achieve enlightenment, I had to stay away from such acts as mind-wandering, daydreaming… I now recognize that I took the idea too far and perhaps too literally.
Last night, Lynch’s class reminded me that daydreaming carries us off to “worlds that never were…” and, as Carl Sagan continues, “Without [imagination], we go nowhere.” How very obviously true! Lynch insists that carving out time to allow the mind to wander is essential for “catching the creative ideas.” Likening the process to that of fishing, he refers to daydreaming as the process of casting a baited hook or net into the ocean, the aether. Once a fish takes hold, you pull it up, examine it, then dip it back into the water as added bait that will attract more fish… You continue to dream an idea through — careful not to think about it logically. Allowing the mind to continue to wander, now with a particular idea in view, you can watch it grow and take shape, and thus the creation process begins.
Rick Rubin, or “Buddah Rubin,” as I refer to him, claims in his book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, that it is essential to grasp onto these fleeting moments of inspiration. When an idea begins to take shape, we must continue to play with it until we feel like we can play with it no more. In that sacred and fleeting moment when inspiration strikes, he urges us to use that energy to fill out an idea as much as possible. In the case of songwriting, he suggests using this time to write through an entire song structure— from the first verse to the final chorus, for example, rather than abandoning it prematurely at one delightful musical loop as we are often so prone to doing. This makes it so much easier to revisit later when it’s time for the polishing phase to begin.
Ray Bradbury had a giant sign posted above his typewriter. It said, “Don’t Think.” A curious banner for a Science Fiction author to work under. But, he was aiming at the same sentiment: During the ideation and creation process, it is essential that we not get lost in thought processes — to not attach to logical or practical terms. Logic and practicality are essential tools reserved for another moment in the process of polishing and finalizing an idea.
And, so, with this in mind, I decided to allow myself plenty of time for my mind to wander this morning. Before opening my phone to look over the calendar, check messages, or peek the large list of To Do items for the day, I decided to embrace my mug of coffee and stare out of the window at the birds, the clouds, the trees… whatever may come into my field of vision. It felt analogous to meditation sessions in which I witness my thoughts and senses. Soon, I began to naturally de-focus and my mind felt free to roam. I didn’t gently call it back, the way I do in meditation. Instead, I allowed it to enjoy its adventure. And, for some period of time later, as if awakening from a trance, I felt a sudden pang! of inspiration! A melody began to take shape in my mind. I saw myself playing it on the piano… and, rather than analyzing or judging it, I ran to the piano and found it there, waiting patiently for me.
I played the melody over and over again, and vocal melodies came through quickly. After looping a verse sufficiently, I suddenly began to hear a chorus… and another idea for perhaps another chorus or a bridge… I played through it all, recording everything with my phone’s Voice Memos and sometimes the video camera. Finally, I reached the end of the idea for the moment… This was marked by a clear feeling of satisfaction. I finally allowed my mind to come back to the present, where I felt blissful and clear… much in the way I may after a deep meditation. How curious.
The act of writing these very words is another example in which I let my daydreams overtake me. I let myself flow through these ideas until I reached some kind of satisfactory conclusion. I did so without judging the words, without questioning their value, and without considering the outcome or objectives. And, finally, I see a new truth emerge... Another pang! of inspiration. A sudden revelatory shift in perspective:
Perhaps daydreaming and meditation are not at all at odds with one another. Perhaps their stark contrast simply leads us to the idea that they are opposite ends of a single pole — two sides of the same coin… working in tandem to bring us closer to a greater awareness of who and where we are and what we’re all about.