The paradox of daydream nature walks

“Daydreaming represents a shift of attention away from some primary physical or mental task we have set for ourselves, or away from directly looking at or listening to something in the external environment, toward an unfolding sequence of private responses made to some internal stimulus. The inner processes usually considered are ‘pictures in the mind’s eye,’ the unrolling of a sequence of events which have varying degrees of probability of taking place.”
-From Yale psychology professor Jerome L. Singer’s book Daydreaming and Fantasy

The above quote comes from a little book I keep on my nightstand called The Art of the Daydream by Wendy Bristow. It’s filled with quotes and pictures of pensive individuals longing for elsewheres, lost in a world of their own thoughts. Admittedly, I am one of them. I have begun to notice that even though I love this state of being and find it necessary to my everyday life, it’s also burdensome. Sometimes I wish I didn’t  posses a mind constantly looking for the deeper meaning behind actions, words, and events. Take for example, my daily walk. I live five minutes from the Presumpscot River in southern Maine, which I visit with my golden retriever, Annie, in all seasons. Annie is an example of someone able to fully live in the present. Her tail wags rapidly when I grab her leash from the closet, unable to contain her excitement. She spends the entire car ride whining with anticipation for a glorious hour of romping through the woods, sniffing territory, prancing along snowbanks, and encountering other canine friends along the way. When I let her off her leash, she bounds into the air, darts down the trail, then retreats, tongue flapping in the wind. Annie seizes this time…I think Thoreau would be quite satisfied that she is indeed living deliberately and sucking the bone dry. I, on the other hand, find myself lost in the creative place…that one where artists roam about with bemused looks upon their faces. I use the time for hashing out the stories in my brain, for constructing plots and framing essays and composing poems. It’s a productive part of my writing process and the best way for me to “pre-write.”

Still, I feel a bit guilty. After all, aren’t we supposed to be in tune to our surroundings when enjoying nature to its fullest extent? Isn’t that what all of these studies are showing us…that an imaginary divide between humans and the physical world persists, even when people are forced to make contact with their natural world? The best I can hope for is a little compromise. So, I’ve decided that sometimes I need to rein in my thoughts. I will stop periodically throughout my walk. I will let go of my daydreams. I will listen to the ice cracking along the river. I will feel the cold air on my cheeks, the sun on my face. I will take deep breaths and enjoy the moment.

Then, of course, I will continue walking and pondering and talking to myself out there in the woods of my imagination. After all, you can take a storyteller away from her desk, but you can never take those stories from her mind.

“Don’t let anybody tell you you’re wasting your time when you’re gazing into space. There is no other way to conceive an imaginary world. I never sit down in front of a bare page to invent something. I daydream about my characters, their lives and their struggles, and when a scene has been played out in my imagination and I think I know what my characters felt, said, and did, I take pen and paper and try to report what I’ve witnessed.” -Stephen Vizinczey