An article on boredom is different than a boring article. The latter can bore you to death; or at the very least, bore your pants off. And that sight might be motivation enough for me to write this!
This is an extension of my last article on “sweet slowness;” the art and science of slowing down time. Some people shared that without events in their lives, without thoughts in their mind, they become bored; that boredom impels them to be on the move, to be overcome by busyness.
Perhaps it is because we don’t feel ‘alive’ unless we are pre-occupied with gonadal (sexual) or adrenal (stress-related) activity. We are more comfortable as ‘human doings’ rather than as ‘human beings.’ Ever notice how ‘bedroom’ is an anagram of ‘boredom?’ Maybe this is the reason so many people stimulate themselves sexually, alone or with a partner when they are bored. It is no surprise then that with its easy and free online access, pornography addiction, especially among the young, has skyrocketed to epidemic proportions. Which makes me wonder what my parent’s generation did to kill boredom before the internet age; maybe that is why I have 11 siblings!
And it is not just pornography; in various studies, boredom is associated with drug abuse, alcohol abuse, smoking, eating disorders, promiscuity, vandalism, depression, aggression, animosity, violence, suicide, risky behavior, etc. In laboratory conditions, people will, in fact, choose self-harm (giving themselves an electric shock) instead of being made to spend six to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, wisely wrote in the 1600s that “all of man’s difficulties are caused by his inability to sit, quietly, in a room by himself.”
Nowadays, children are trained to annihilate boredom early on. We schedule out their lives at the expense of limiting the development of their imagination. We worry that if we don’t give them something to pay attention to that we hamper their brain development. The reverse may actually be true. Boredom can develop the faculties of inventiveness and play; the ability to daydream, fantasize, and create; to think critically and solve problems like, “what do I do now?” I remember in my own childhood turning bed sheets into ‘tents;’ turning old shoes into ‘weapons’ that could rain down on a sibs tent; turning a piece of wood and rubber into a slingshot; and anything that was round and could bounce quickly turned into a soccer ball for indoor playing. Yes, boredom was bountiful..!
Today, the urge to immerse our attention in external things is so wired that we are desperate to be distracted and gladly embrace interruptions. We reach for our smartphones to deliver us from the ‘dread’ of idleness. We fill our psychic emptiness with Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, wrote in the 1800s that this impulse to escape the present by keeping ourselves busy maybe” the greatest source of unhappiness.”
He wrote further that it is there in the emptiness, in the stillness, in the ‘silence of the Divine’ is where everything can be acquired. Boredom can be a spiritual practice when one stops that frantic running away from the Self. It has been used as a tool by mystics to achieve a greater sense of Self-awareness. Boredom can be used as a motivation for positive things; to study, to create, to devote, to write. One simply accepts that existence includes boredom; and like other feelings such as loneliness, sadness, apathy, etc., they will come and they will go. Let the waiting give weight to your life; make it a source of learning and Self-knowledge.
And maybe all that boredom needs is an infusion of meaning in one’s life. And what society needs is to promote man’s capacity to find meaning; a personal meaning to a life so that is more than just hedonic consumption. A feeling and belief that we are contributing; that we are all inter-connected; and that we can make our lives better by taking care of each other and our communities.
Okay, I know that you are bored already; although your pants are still on. But come; it is the way. Go out into nature and walk on a beach or wander off on a hiking trail and stay with yourself. Just be; and in your silent present, feel the deep root of your Being; the presence of your Spirit. Feel the love that you are and harvest the fruits of your bountiful boredom to share. Namaste.