Einstein clearly equates intelligence to imagination. Odd that Miriam Webster defines intelligence as “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations: reason; also: the skilled use of reason: the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria.” 1
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Intelligence can be defined many different ways. It can be theoretical; it can be pragmatic. It can be highly complex; it can be simple. It can be the domain of a special few; it can be accessible to the many. Those attributed with extreme intelligence, like Albert Einstein, rarely fit the usual mold for the super smart. Often they didn’t even do well in school. Einstein himself was a high school drop out. So were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, and Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in his junior year. 2
It’s interesting how extreme intelligence shows up. Genius is often accessed in “off” moments, while in the shower or strolling or while daydreaming. One interesting study stated that “while daydreaming, your thoughts are gliding and ricocheting all over the place—past, present, future—accessing all your stored knowledge, memories, experiences, etc. … these connections—the ricocheting thoughts if you will—appear to be stronger in smarter people. Maybe that’s why they can get more out of their daydreaming states of mind. They can dig deeper. This seems to fit nicely with other studies that say that people who can go deeper into daydreaming states are more likely to come away with worthwhile insights.” 3
Daydreaming doesn’t exactly fit the American work ethic of “nose to the grindstone” and “never quit.” It implies a softer approach, an inviting attitude, rather than a demanding one. But if this study is accurate, there is tangible value to harvest from daydreaming.
The article continued, “Einstein often compared his creative process to that of poets and musicians, describing his insights as “a sudden rapture.” He famously said: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”
Interesting, that he called it “the gift of fantasy.” Children live in a fantasy world but are encouraged to grow out of it so they can become effective in the adult world. Yet, so many geniuses remain child-like, vividly connected to imaginal realms. Their daily practice—daydreaming—might even be considered a unique form of meditation.
Quoting further from the article: “Probably the best and easiest way to trigger daydreaming is to start walking. Give your mind time to roam and see what new connections you can make. If anyone gives you a hard time, tell them that Einstein did his best thinking while taking long, rambling walks (often getting lost in the process!). And let's quit badgering people and children for being daydreamers. At the very least, daydreaming is a natural thought process; at its best—it's probably our greatest hope for breakthrough thinking.”
Breakthrough thinking is something we could use a little more of these days and if daydreaming can help, all the more power to it. I recall some elderly gentleman once saying, “Sometimes I sits and thinks. Sometimes I just sits.” Imagine, being content to do nothing… not even meditate! In fact, this approach might improve meditation—by removing any agenda about making spiritual progress. This also recalls a Biblical verse about connecting with the Divine: “In an hour when thou thinkest not…”
All of us have our unique brand of intelligence and our personal creative process. We could probably benefit from letting go of our comparisons to others and surrendering our concern for results, to simply enjoy the state of being alive. If we’ve done this, even in a brief meditation, we’ve experienced the remarkable inflow of wisdom that arrives from some unknown source, not always in thought form but as emotion, for instance, the feeling of deep peace.
Many of us judge ourselves for not being smart enough, but when we expand our definition of intelligence to include the intuitive, the imaginative, and the fruits of daydreaming, we’re immediately empowered to increase our intelligence, by spending more time doing and thinking absolutely nothing!
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3. Ami Fries The Power of Daydreaming