THE BLOG
03/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Doodling And The Wandering Mind

The other day at the end of a meeting, my colleague remarked how much I doodle - in the course of our conference call, I had 'defaced' a holiday card, an article we were reviewing, and created an entire landscape of doodles on miscellaneous papers lying nearby. I confessed that I love to doodle and only apologize if I've doodled on someone else's papers. My 40-something-year-old academic colleague confided that in second grade (catholic school) he had been caught doodling to the horror of his teacher/nun and punished severely. He never doodled again.

I offered my pen to my friend and encouraged him to try again.

Doodling is the expression of a wandering mind and new research is suggesting that a wandering mind may be a good thing for humanity. A wandering mind appears to be a time when our brains are not 'doing' but rather 'being' and in that state (called a default brain state) we seem to increase in self-awareness (Raichle et al., 2001; Lou et al., 2004). By that I mean we gain a greater intuitive understanding of 'who we are' in relation to our bodies, thoughts, feelings, and actions, to others, and the universe at large. This increase in intuitive self-awareness may be a key to authentic happiness (Cloninger, Feeling Good, 2004).

Daydreaming is a process associated with the default brain state and one likely important for "integrating lessons learned from the past into our plans for the future" (New Scientist, Nov 15, 2008). In light of these new findings, it is a bit disturbing that we seem to be reducing daydreaming in our children's lives through the extreme emphasis in schools on doing and producing at the expense of 'wandering'. The environments that enhance such wandering may be things like being in nature, unstructured play, boredom, and probably many of the arts, particularly when unstructured (painting, singing, etc.).

I remember singing The Happy Wanderer song as a child, "I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track, and as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back....val deri val dera, val deri, val dera ha ha ha ha ha ........"

Wandering minds, wandering bodies, wandering pens doodling away - they will inevitably lead to laughter and self-discovery if we don't block their way.

References:

The secret life of the brain. November 5, 2008, New Scientist.
A relation between rest and the self in the brain? Wicker et al., Brain Research Reviews, 2003, 43(224-230).
Feeling Good, Robert Cloninger, 2004.
Parietal cortex and representation of the mental self. Lou et al., PNAS, April 27, 2004 (vol 101: 17: 6827-6832).
A default mode of brain function. Raichle et al., PNAS, January 16, 2001. Vol 98 (2): 676-682.

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