There is something so nice about daydreaming. There, our dreams can come true and we attain that one-in-a-billion specialness that we ache for. In our daydreams, we are the superstars: We write the songs, score the goals, dance the ballets and are so successful, beautiful, great and impressive that all our critics are silenced and all the persons we desire most fall in love with us. It is no accident that we so often escape into the world of daydreams because there we can live life without tears, without limits and without failure. In fantasy, we achieve salvation, consummation and vindication.
We seldom admit to each other that we have daydreams and that we escape into them. We are ashamed of our fantasies, ashamed that, as adults, we resort to such a childish and egoistical escape. Imagine what others would think if they could tune into our fantasies! But a certain escape into fantasy and daydreams is natural and even healthy. Daydreaming can be a way of relaxing. There is little difference between a tired person inserting a musical cassette tape into a stereo and sitting back to forget life’s problems and another tired soul inserting her favorite daydream into her imagination and sitting back to relax. Both can be healthy escape from over-intensity and there shouldn’t be more shame in one than in the other. Moreover, a healthy fantasy life can positively help spawn creativity because our daydreams put us in touch with the goodness and potential that is inside us.
In our daydreams, we are never small petty persons, but heroes and heroines, special persons who change worlds, radiate specialness, are truly creatures in God’s image and likeness, and are aesthetic and pedagogical incarnations of life’s infinite potential. Nobody with a healthy fantasy life stagnates, because his daydreams make him too restless to simply vegetate. However, daydreams can also be bad, not because we should be ashamed that, like children, we resort to fantasy, or because at times our imaginings are erotic and sexual, but because too great a reliance on fantasy fixates us. Simply put, if we daydream too much, we become unhealthily self-preoccupied. Too much fantasy dulls full attentiveness to the present, to others, to prayer and to God. Too much daydreaming leaves us distracted and dissipated with too much of our perception and thought centred upon our own agenda and our own obsessions.
We become like a preoccupied and anxious man who takes a walk in a beautiful forest. Because his thoughts are obsessively fixed upon himself and his worries, he sees virtually nothing. All of nature’s beautiful colors, its multi-scents and million sounds are blocked out. He is lost in his own world oblivious to the richness and beauty around him. He truly sees “as through a glass, darkly.” Our perception, too, is limited, dulled and dissipated when we daydream too much. What should we do about our daydreams and our fantasy life? To the extent that our daydreams are healthy, we may enjoy them. However, more and more as we mature in life and prayer, we must actively work at turning away from fantasy towards prayer. How do we do this?
First of all, we need to understand something about prayer: Prayer is more than just saying prayers. Radical prayer is contemplation and contemplation itself should not be understood simply as good feelings we have when we gaze at something which moves us. We contemplate every time we see something as it really is, nakedly, face to face. When we genuinely perceive, when we see, hear, smell, touch or taste anything that is other than ourselves and do not manipulate it, we are contemplating, we are praying. (This of course does not preclude other methods of praying.) When prayer is understood in this wide sense, then we see, too, how our daydreams can hurt us; namely, to the extent that when we daydream we, ultimately, focus our awareness upon ourselves thereby limiting how much we see, hear, feel, touch and smell. Daydreaming gets in the way of prayer. How concretely do we turn from daydreams to prayer?
You begin by avoiding the common misunderstanding that would identify contemplation with a blank state of mind. We contemplate when we let our perception and thought form and flow freely without the manipulation that our preoccupations and obsessions normally impose. Contemplation is stream of awareness and stream of consciousness. This is different from fantasy. When we daydream, we actively manipulate our thoughts and imagination. In effect, we play a program in our minds. Contemplation is awareness without manipulation. Such awareness, as great spiritual writers have always assured us, is prayer. It is enjoyable to daydream, but it is ultimately more enriching to pray.