Of course, for many right now in a world of lockdowns and self-isolation, we’ve too much time to daydream and this can bring its own suite of challenges. Yet, we also know, that when a new normal emerges, daydreaming will still carry a measure of guilt.
Why guilt? What is there about being a daydreamer that our process, output and work-obsessed society finds hard to embrace? Does it hark back to school days and the insistence that we ‘concentrate’ and ‘stop looking out of the window’? Or is it a deeper problem of society – in a world that measures success by widgets produced, exams passed, possessions held, or positions held how can we hold truck with the apparent ‘wasting of time’ of the daydreamer. Yet we all know that those moments of precious time when our minds wander and fly can be some of the most stimulating, relaxing and reinvigorating of our lives. Neuroscience tells us how important these processes are to our mental and physical health and our spirit – and to our happiness. It’s a vital process through which we build our resilience, our creativity, and to deep think.
Place has always been important for my daydreaming and the best, more often that not, involve being alone and in nature. I can wander off on journeys of the imagination in woods and forests or meadows but the most powerful seem to involve the water’s edge – by a pond, the banks of a river or at the seashore.
The most impactful of all my daydreaming revelations, transforming the rest of my life, came unexpectedly one sunny afternoon on the south coast of England looking out to sea. I’d been studying the life of the rocky shore as part of a biology field course and, as my mind went off on one, I could see the way the clouds and sunshine and land interacted in the great water cycle: I could imagine the web of life playing out within the pools; I could feel the power of life flowing through me and through everything else. Time, tide, sun, water, land and sea played out in my mind in a marvelous 3.5 billion year story. Life flashed before me and I was in awe and extremely happy. I’ve often said, that was the moment I became an environmentalist. It was a moment of pure joy.
I also understood that learning in, about and for our world could be a joy and it could be shared. Deciding to devote a life to being a champion for nature and sustainability through learning was an inevitable consequence of that daydream. To be sure, sometimes a sustainable future seems just that – a daydream – but then I look around at all the other millions of champions out there doing their bit and realise our time will come, is coming, must come.
We need opportunities to celebrate and revel in what the natural world provides for us – times to share these wonders with as many as possible. Today, I’m reminded of the day, almost thirty years ago, when a dozen or so environmental communications and education folk from across the wetlands world met in Kuala Lumpur and, prompted by an extremely enthusiastic Taej Mundkur, agreed to approach the United Nations to call for the creation of a World Wetlands Day – an annual celebration of what these amazing places at the water’s edge do for us.
Today, 2nd February, is that day and we’ve been celebrating that day every for the last 24 years. This is the date in 1971 when the international convention on wetlands came into being – 50 years ago this year – in the Iranian coastal city of Ramsar. The pioneering Ramsar Convention talked about ‘wise use’ long before we talked about ‘sustainable development’ recognizing people as part of nature and not separate from it. Each year World Wetlands Day has been an opportunity to look at one of the many ‘ecosystem services’ that wetlands provide for us – and it is now being extended into a month long series of activities. This year’s theme is Water and you can find a wealth of resources online to help educators plan and get involved.
For me, though this World Wetlands Day, particularly at this time of challenge, is an opportunity to wrap up warm and, if you can, take your socially distanced walk to the local park pond, canal, beach or riverbank. Go feed the ducks or just watch for a while. Even in the depths of northern winter you may be rewarded with the sights and signs of spring coming and hope for the future. Let your mind wander and wonder. Let it drift to think about what a truly sustainable world would be like, what a joyous world that could be and what you can do to bring it about – through being wise.
In the words of the hippy poet John Sebastian – “What a day for a daydream”
Doug Hulyer has been involved in environmental education for many years and is Trustee of SEEd.
*Old West Coast reference revealing the age of the author