Mindfulness versus Daydreaming

Are you a Walter Mitty?

Most mindfulness meditation teachers don’t encourage daydreaming because mindfulness is about being in the present moment, as it is.  I noticed the difference in a mindfulness lifestyle compared to a daydream lifestyle in the 2013 movie, Walter Mitty. Walter (Ben Stiller) doesn’t enjoy his job and indulges in fun daydreams. Yet, when a real challenge presents himself, Walter uses mindfulness as time and decision making becomes critical. He needs to  focus on the present moment to meet the time critical goal.

The case for daydreams

Dreams and daydreams can be a fun method of escapism and a way to experience creativity. Salvadore Dali dubbed his famous artwork, the melting clocks as “a hand painted dream”. Paul McCartney also composed the melody for ‘Yesterday’ in a dream. J.K. Rowling created ideas for Harry Potter while daydreaming on a long train journey. In visualisation meditation we create an image of what our version of success would look like. 

The case for mindfulness

On the other hand, mindfulness is about being fully aware of the present moment. Many philosophical traditions teach that living in the moment increases happiness. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

Should I daydream or be mindful at work?

What about when we are bored at work, should we daydream or be mindful? The default mode of humans is that we like to start focusing on a task and then enjoy mind-wandering. Some studies have shown that mind-wandering correlates with unhappiness and activates the network of brain areas associated with self-referential processing. Daydreaming can hinder sensorial immediacy, openness, presence, generosity and patience.

However, the case for daydreaming is made by Dr Muireann Irish, Neuroscience Research Australia Senior Research Officer. Dr Irish says that daydreams give us the ability to consider the thoughts and perspectives of other people. She weighs in that it is best to not curb daydreaming but also not to give it so much importance that it hampers your job and stops you from paying attention.

Meditation philosophies

In the movie, it is fun to watch Walter’s kooky daydreams but when he faces his fears the pace of the movie picks up rapidly.  I believe both mindfulness and visualisation meditation can be helpful in life. It was through Walter's daydreams he realised he wanted more adventure.  Then he turned to mindfulness meditation to achieve his new goals. 

To learn how to face your fears and start both mindfulness and visualisation meditation, come to our Classic Meditation classes. Use visualisation meditation to find out what you are seeking and then mindfulness meditation to put it into action. You too might rediscover more zest in life.