The Art of Being Bored
by Karyn Greenstreet
copyright © 2000, by Karyn Greenstreet. All rights reserved.
A friend of mine is working towards enlightenment (an oxymoron, I know, but just follow the story here). She meditates every day, trying to clear her mind and be in the moment. She's very good at it. So good, in fact, that she's discovered one thing they don't talk about much in spiritual studies: enlightenment is boring. Boring, that is, to our Western mind that gets engaged in the process of getting somewhere (enlightenment), then forgets that it is often the journey, not the destination, that brings rewards. Boring, because our ultimate spiritual growth depends on letting go of the clinging of the mind.
The same is true in physical endeavors. For example, take hiking. There are two kinds of hikers: those that just want to get to the destination, and those that fill their senses with the world that surrounds them as they hike. The first kind of hiker is bored with the repetitive walking, and the "thrill" of hiking is having reached the destination. The second kind of hiker stays in the moment and experiences the fullness of the experience.
In an effort to avoid boredom, we rush here and there, trying to keep our minds active and engaged. When we're bored, we fill the gap immediately -- with food, alcohol, sex, shopping, TV watching and other activities. We have a drive for diversion. We can't stand to be in the State of Boredom.
Being bored weighs us down, making us feel physical and emotional lethargy. The longer we're bored, the more exhausting it becomes. A downward spiral ensues, and we can't seem to pick ourselves up out of our lethargy, depression and boredom. Most people go through periods of boredom, where they lack any kind of enthusiasm for life. There are lots of reasons we get bored: repetitive tasks, lack of interactivity, lack of interest, fear, resistance, not being challenged or being challenged too much. Instead of placing the blame on external circumstances (our jobs, our families, the rainy weather), consider looking inside for the answer to your boredom.
In The Heart of The Soul, Gary Zukav says, "Boredom is a flight from what is important. Like workaholism and perfectionism, it is a way of distracting yourself from inner experiences. It occurs when you look outward and do not find anything to engage your attention. Instead of feeling your emotions - becoming aware of the functioning of your energy system - you become bored. Boredom ... is a flight from your higher potential. It is fear of the transformation that wants to occur, and will occur in you, when you explore your emotions. It is your resistance to spiritual growth."
It's not necessary to celebrate boredom, or even welcome it into your life. However, there are many lessons to be learned from boredom, including spiritual and emotional ones. Your re-interpretation of your experience with boredom can signal your progress into a higher spiritual level. Boredom allows you to understand that its mask conceals an unwillingness to look deeply at our inner life and our anguishes and pains. Boredom allows us to look at our patterns and to heal them.
When we are uncomfortable with ourselves, with what's in our minds and hearts, we feel bored. Learning to be alone with yourself, your thoughts, and your feelings, will help you to reduce the availability of boredom in your life. Using television, food, or other people as a way of not being alone with yourself is only a temporary relief: once the TV is turned off, the food is gone, and the people have left, you're still alone with yourself. Learning to love being alone with yourself is a step towards spiritual growth.
With that said, humans are social animals. Very few people want to be alone all the time. However, being alone can help bring to the surface skills and abilities that would have been suppressed in the company of others. On the positive side, creativity and imagination can soar, and great works of art can be created when you are alone. The dark side of this is that the same imagination can create paranoia and fantasies that are unhealthy. Being alone can help you discover untapped sources of strength and self-sufficiency, but being alone and bored can lead to depression. Finally, being bored can encourage you to learn new things and explore your world, if you can get past the "I must have stimulation NOW" phase which leads us to destructive alternatives to relieve boredom.
So, what can you do to make boredom into a spiritual practice?
- Recognize boredom. Determine if you're really bored.
- Figure out why you are bored. What are you clinging to, what are you pushing away?
- Ask yourself what emotions you are feeling.
- Ask yourself what emotions you are avoiding.
- Let go. Let go of whatever you are clinging to. Let go of whatever you are pushing away.
- Sit with the boredom and feel it in your body. Notice it. Do nothing about it. The most powerful way of transforming boredom is to do nothing about it. Simply be.
Find creative and healthy ways for exploring our world, so that you have a balance in your life between mental and emotional stimulation, and times of quiet contemplation. Discover ways to be truly useful in the world and reflect upon the full use of life. Understand that boredom can show you a path to rest and relaxation at all levels.
Boredom is a very large and intimidating mountain to climb. We must all face it, and choose to sit with it until transformation and healing take place, or run for the TV remote control. Boredom will return again and again, as all important emotions cycle around to help us grow. Will you accept the up and down cycles of life, or distract yourself from them in an effort for short-term pleasure? The choice is yours.