It is somewhat of a pleasant surprise to find in the Autobiography of a philosopher like Herbert Spencer the confession that ‘castle-building,’ so often condemned, is in his opinion of great practical utility. Day dreams were to him the beginnings of a Constructive Philosophy for which the world is today grateful.
And the late Herbert Spencer is not the only advocate of day-dreams that deserves a hearing. Not long ago the pages of ‘Truth’ contained a recommendation to its readers (not usually considered of the ‘dreamy’ order) to give this neglected subject a degree of study more worthy of it, and, if necessary, to start a ‘dream cure,’ as a rival to the numerous ‘cures’ for human ills that already exist.
It is clear that ‘dreaming’ is not as useless as it has been supposed to be by a Society bent on filling up its time in one of two ways—namely, by turning the said time into money or by cramming it with feverish enjoyment.
Town life certainly is not conducive to daydreams, although many exquisitely beautiful theories and thoughts have been born in cramped, dismal, even squalid surroundings. Out in the open country or by the sea one breathes freely, not the products of combustion, but the pure fresh air of heaven. One sees, too, not the erections of man, soot-begrimed and put up with a view to economy, but the glorious extravagance of Nature who produces life and being on a lavish scale and scorns, utilitarian arguments.
The parables of Jesus, how broad they are! What a vast ‘constructive philosophy’ they shadow forth. Consider for a moment the parable of the mustard seed. The tiny seed that springs up and becomes a great tree to which birds fly and in which they make their homes. This is the parable, but it is not all of it. A tree means so much to the ‘dreamer.’
This morning I opened my eyes to see the early sunshine lighting up some budding elms. ‘How delicate was the tracery made by the branches showing against the clear blue sky. The birds, restless with the life of the new clay, returned again and again as though to- encourage the buds with their song. It was all very beautiful. But my waking thoughts went down below the surface to the mighty spreading roots that made all the beauty possible. I saw in imagination the fine root-hairs pushing their way into the dark soil and sucking up the food out of which the tree was to grow. I knew that the relation between the form of the spreading branches and that of the spreading roots was a fixed one, and I drew from it much help and comfort. As the life of the tree depends upon an unseen source, so does the life of each human being. I told myself that underneath this visible existence of ours, this life of sensation and freedom and beauty, there is a spiritual source whence the chief nourishment rises. To the unenlightened and unreasoning mind the tree and the physical life as we see them are complete. To the botanist and the thinker there is a solution to the mystery of both. The tree and the life are severally links between the air and the soil and between the Finite and the Infinite. The vigorous and healthy life that sends forth in all directions places of shelter and shade for the restless wanderer must have, hidden away from ordinary sight, a point of contact with the Unseen to correspond with each of these resting-places.
That is not all the dream, but is it not enough for one day?
If we realized fully that the abundance of our physical life depends not on our surroundings only but also on our power of drawing strength from the Unseen, would not many of our daily difficulties and discouragements vanish like the morning dew? I think so.