|photo by megskay|
In particular, I found Nicholas Carr's review of brain guru Daniel Goleman's "Focus" to be compelling. Ponder this statement:
"Seemingly scattered ideas, sensations and memories coalesce into patterns, into art."
I can't tell you how much I -- as a bona fide scatterbrain, as a child who routinely had teachers' commenting on my lack of attention and wandering mind -- felt validated by Goleman's assertion that daydreaming connects us with a state known as "open awareness," which is:
"a form of attentiveness characterized by “utter receptivity to whatever floats into the mind.” Experiments suggest it’s also the source of our most creative thoughts. Going beyond “orienting,” in which we deliberately gather information, and “selective attention,” in which we concentrate on solving a particular problem, open awareness frees the brain to make the “serendipitous associations” that lead to fresh insights. Artists and inventors alike seem unusually adept at such productive daydreaming."
Okay, so that's the good news. The not-so-good news is that, according to Goleman, those naturally wired with open awareness have to train that down a bit in the face of myriad distractions: the tweets, the fb posts, the text messages, the trivial scattershot of data that floods our cortex these days.
And, as a writer, this is particularly challenging. Remember in the old days when we'd bring a notebook around with us to catch bits of conversations or random thoughts that occurred to us during our regular rhythm of the day? Well I know that for me, the last few years those impulses are now flash-texted into my iPhone in the "notes" section as I amble about on my SW Portland hillwalks (which has been a long-time remedy when I've hit a wall with writing - a way to let my muscle memory and subconscious get an endorphin boost and work out a conundrum on the page).
But as soon as I have that little device out of my pocket, I'm checking facebook, the gps tracker, the weather, twitter and my email, thus bollixing up the works - complicating my mission and sending me down rabbit holes of distraction.
As with any addiction, this behavior takes me on a bit of a euphoria-depression roller coaster. Synapses fire and I feel connected with the world, and then I'm at a loss when I return to my desk with nothing. Consequently (and because my "open awareness" loves to throw me into the arms of various experiments), the other day I decided to take a deviceless hour-and-a-half walk. Left the phone at home, and off I traipsed.
The whole time I felt odd and sort of phantom-limby. I kept patting my pocket (in that spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch way). I witnessed a few interesting things and longed to record and/or report on them. It became clear that my quotidian creative process has become informed by my connection to technology. I was profoundly sad upon returning home and acknowledging this.
It's not that I haven't contemplated this addiction before. I wrote briefly about the month I experimented with a weekly Internet sabbath back here. And then again as a contributor to Shawn Levy's article last year.
So, am I going to reinstate the sabbath? I don't think I am. Because my issue has gone beyond a weekly fast. I think I need to change the way I experience open awareness more on a daily basis. I have to learn how to re-invite the magic. I have always needed to spend much (not some, but much) of my day in la-la-land in order to feel, well, like myself, and I guess the whole relationship between daydreaming and creating art concretizes the reason why.
In his review, Carr sums up the dangers of inadvertently banishing open awareness, and it definitely strikes a chord:
"Always a rare and elusive form of thinking, it seems to be getting rarer and more elusive. Our modern search-engine culture celebrates information gathering and problem solving — ways of thinking associated with orienting and selective focus — but has little patience for the mind’s reveries. Letting one’s thoughts wander seems frivolous, a waste of practical brainpower. Worse, our infatuation with social media is making it harder to hear the mind’s whispers. Solitude has fallen out of fashion. Even when we’re by ourselves, we’re rarely alone with our thoughts."
What do you think? How much time do you need each day to be "alone with your thoughts"?