When people start to meditate, they are often surprised at how their minds become distracted within a short space of time. Humans seem to have a ‘daydream creation module’ specifically designed to fill our minds with speculation. At school, we began to stare out of the window. In adulthood, we drift away from the task in hand.
Daydreams do have some functions. They enrich our perspective. A sportsperson, when training, will often allow their mind to imagine the course they are due to follow. This fills our brains with pathways ready to think about our interests. Without daydreams, we would lack imagination, and would not be able to engage with the world in any depth. Life would become an instruction-following exercise.
On the other hand if life were all daydreams, then we might find it difficult to get anything complete. If a housebuilder got too easily distracted, their house might remain half finished for too long. An ability to focus ensures that life converges upon one or more chosen pathways.
DIVERGENT AND CONVERGENT THINKING
If you want to think about it more technically, think of your mind as capable of two types of thinking.
Firstly, you are a natural divergent thinker – most humans are. When you see something, your mind cannot help saying to you: ‘that reminds me of something…’. And off you go into an associative indulgence, letting the imagination take you into loosely connecte realms.
But secondly, and in contrast, you are a convergent thinker. If you concentrate, you are able to harness some of this associative richness, and decise how it all comes together. For example, a film director’s job is to harness all of the imaginitive capacity of scriptwriters, actors and other creatives, and bring them together into one realisation which makes the most of everything. There is usually only one product: the film. If everyone stays in the associative field, that single film might never be made.
Your task, if you accept it, is to balance your two skills: the divergent and the convergent. You can spend some of your time collecting ideas, gaining impressions, exploring, making your imaginitive life richer. That is how you increase your mind’s scope.
But you can also spend time working on particular projects, with particular timescales, and particular goals or products. That way, your efforts can be focused more powerfully on outcomes.
JUDGING THE BALANCE
No one can tell you when to diverge and when to converge, when to free-associate, and when to bring things to more of a conclusion.
But you can learn to understand your own tendencies, and try to gain some mastery.
If you constantly find yourself lost in a world of imagination, but never see your life moving in the directions you would like, then perhaps it is time to learn the art of focus, in order to bring more ‘convergence’ and control into your life.
On the other hand, if you find that your life is imaginitively or emotionally impoverished, and lacks spark, then you might have too much convergence. You may benefit from reintroducing some imaginitive free-association, to loosen up your mind and make it richer and more supple.
As humans, we are capable of daydreams, free flights of association and imagination. We are also capable of focus, converging all our ideas on one or two special projects.
We can learn to manage the balance of these skills. Our projects need to be fertilised by our imaginations, but cultivated by our ability to control ourselves.
We are all different, and have different needs at different times. It is up to us to judge and amend the balance. Roughly speaking: if life is stale, then let your imagination run more freely; if life is out of control and chaotic, then learn to bring in focus.
In meditation, too, this applies. In particular, meditation helps us to develop focus, so that we can harness our associative mind, making it more functional, and of better use to us.