February 10, 2022
Indulgence in aimless thought
or dreamy imagining;
Foolish or purposeless
My woolgathering was not popular with my parents. They saw no legitimate purpose to it. Apparently I did much of it as a child and was always brought back sharply to reality, or what they named reality. You’re off woolgathering again, focus! Of course I was focused. Just not perhaps on the task at hand.
Woolgathering once literally referred to the act of gathering loose tufts of wool that had gotten caught on bushes and fences as sheep passed by. It was not the most profitable of enterprises as people wandered seemingly aimlessly, gaining little for their efforts. Wandering aimlessly is what stuck, much like those tenacious tufts on a fence.
Woolgathering. Regards legitimacy, my parents were wrong. It seems our brains are hardwired for it. In fact the default mode of our brain is actually the wandering mind. This default mode is different from our central executive mode which is engaged when we are focused on a task. But after we’ve been thus focused for a while our brain gets tired and starts to daydream. To paraphrase Daniel J. Levitin from his interview in the current issue of Sun Magazine, the central executive is good for problem solving when the problem has a rational and linear solution, the default mode is better when the solution requires us to think outside the box and find connections and solutions that are neither linear or obvious.
Much of how we encounter the world is not linear or obvious. We are multidimensional beings. We are constantly scanning our world to gather information from and through many sources and this information is often random, spontaneous, organic, and often hidden from immediate view. Our default mode is the essence of the creative process and we are creative beings. In our evolution, this default mode was also essential to our survival. Our minds function best when they are allowed to wander off to gather those wooly bits of wisdom.
The dilemma for us today is that we are so consumed with a focus on doing that we neglect our intrinsic need for being. What would happen if we were to slow down to the speed of wisdom and allow our minds to wander off? What wooly bits of wisdom might we find? I know I will be thinking of this when I wander the sheep abundant landscapes of Ireland, landscapes filled with wooly bits clinging to fences, heather and hawthorn, landscapes just perfect for a bit of mystical woolgathering.