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The wandering mind

Chris Jepson

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Chris Jepson

Columnist Chris Jepson

"I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering."

—Steven Wright

Ah, tangents. The stuff of dreams. But that we all might be. But that we all are. Lost in a distraction.

I have a journal entry from May 13 that reads, "I was lost in a distraction. Some of my generation have, for the lack of a better description, mind fog." I was attempting to amuse myself with that categorization. Mind fog. But in a recent New York Times article on June 29 titled "Discovering the Virtues Of a Wandering Mind" (by John Tierney) suggests there is both virtue and benefit to daydreaming.

I went to high school in a time of study halls. Unlike today's school curriculum, yesteryear's school day had whole periods of time devoted to nothing. Of course, the better students, ones with discipline and scholastic ambition, used their study halls for just that. Studying. Not I. Quite candidly, I had neither the interest nor the discipline (maturity) for studying. I always hoped for a study hall seat by a window, so much the better for a wandering mind.

The Times article described mind wandering "as a subcategory of daydreaming, which is the broad term for all stray thoughts and fantasies, including those moments you deliberately set aside to imagine yourself winning the lottery or accepting the Nobel. But when you're trying to accomplish one thing and lapse into 'task-unrelated thoughts,' that's mind wandering."

Mind wandering is a good thing. Don't fight it. Just imagine how many marriages wouldn't exist today but for mind wandering. Your spouse gets going, yet again, on some familiar lament and off you go to the islands (or wherever you mentally go during such diatribes). "Yes Dear. Of course, you may be right." The Times article used an example of being caught in horrendous traffic with your mind wandering three-fourths of the time.

Another way of putting it is "zoning out." But you don't really do so completely. Zone out. According to psychologists who study such matters, your mind is/may be working on other subjects while you're off wandering in the recesses of your mind. On tangents. On whimsy. Fantasy. Dreams. And bingo! That problem you've worked on for weeks is resolved, the solution floating forth seemingly from nowhere.

We're only now beginning to understand the complexities of the human brain. But one thing's for sure — daydreaming and mind wandering (experiences I labeled as mind fog) are being recognized as an "evolutionary advantage." Regardless of how you categorize it, daydreaming is a quintessential human activity with many more upsides than negatives.

After all, what's a study hall for but to daydream? Algebra held no interest. French but a foreign language. Literally. Biology? Well now, there was a subject that surrounded me in all manner of beguiling feminine form. And to put one's head down, encircled by that lush fragrance of life and to wander mindlessly upon the passing clouds but one window away was the stuff of dreams. Of life. Dream on!