We tend to reproach ourselves for staring out of the window. You are supposed to be working, or studying, or ticking off things on your to-do list, or busy yapping away. It can seem almost the definition of wasted time. It seems to produce nothing, to serve no purpose. We equate it with boredom, distraction, futility. The act of cupping your chin in your hands near a pane of glass and letting your eyes drift in the middle distance does not normally enjoy high prestige, it doesn’t count for much in our estimation. We don’t go around saying: ‘I had a great day: the high point was staring out of the window’. But maybe in a better society, that’s just the sort of thing people would say to one another.
The point of staring out of a window is, paradoxically, not to find out what is going on outside. It is, rather, an exercise in discovering the contents of our own minds. It’s easy to imagine we know what we think, what we feel and what’s going on in our heads. But we rarely do entirely. We are often more interested in cultivating our outer lives. However, paying attention to what happens within us is what helps us know who we really are. There’s a huge amount of what makes us who we are that circulates unexplored and unused. Its potential lies untapped. It is shy and doesn’t emerge under the pressure of direct questioning. If we do it right, staring out the window offers a way for us to listen out for the quieter suggestions and perspectives of our deeper selves.
The potential of daydreaming isn’t recognized by our society because it is obsessed with productivity. But some of our greatest insights come when we stop trying to be purposeful and instead respect the creative potential of daydreams. It’s just like how reading a good novel can expand our imagination and ultimately our heart. It is said that a novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges our sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. Therefore, it’s a creator of inwardness. Likewise, we can’t go any deeper within if we ignore little periods of purpose-free calm. Staring out the window offers us such an opportunity. We see the world going on, but we don’t have to respond; we have no immediate intentions, and so the more tentative parts of ourselves have a chance to be heard. Look inward. Dig deep. You’ll be surprised what you discover.