The Case for Being Mindless

May 18, 2009

Ross Danis, Program Director, Education


So much of our culture supports being “mindful.” The ability to store and quickly access information is highly prized in school and in our personal and professional lives. But the process of being creative or the act of creativity often involves allowing the mind to wander, to not think, to daydream, to de-focus.  And if you read my earlier post on the creativity gap, then you know that I believe we should be doing more to foster creativity.

Native Americans sometimes refer to “cricket talk” as what takes place in the brain when we just keep rehashing all the stuff we already know. It is believed that new ideas—things we don’t already know—can only emerge in the mind when we shut down the noise, turn off our logical-analytical brains, dial down the “cricket talk,” and just be.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that has little tolerance for daydreaming and “flights of fancy.” Just think of the parents who are gravely warned that Johnny has trouble staying focused, or that Jessica lets her mind wander sometimes. I want to say, “Yes, and?” Sadly, if such behavior persists in children, adults begin to call it Attention Deficient Disorder.  Of course, there are times when ADD is a legitimate diagnosis, but I believe it is overdiagnosed. Imagine someone telling young Ben Franklin to stop flying that kite and get back to his real work, or telling young Leonardo da Vinci about the folly of his observations of birds and his drawings of helicopters. What a challenge Robin Williams must have been in third grade!

the-little-princeOnce, many years ago, I taught a lesson on the book The Little Prince to a group of eighth graders. All completed projects on the book. Many of the students created lovely mobiles that retold the story. One young lady brought in her cello and played a nine-part cello piece she composed, which musically illustrated the themes of the Little Prince. Pretty cool, huh? Where did that come from if not from letting the mind wander a bit?

Maybe it is time to stand up for daydreaming and become advocates for a little mindlessness, all in the name of fostering creativity in ourselves and our children.