When my boys were young I remember hearing the familiar complaint “I’m bored”. I would hear this on rainy Sundays and throughout summer vacations. The other day I had a surprising realization – my boys have not uttered that statement in years! Primarily because of technology, my boys now have entertaining stimulation 24 hours a day. And I’m not so sure that this is a good thing…..
Feeling bored may be what we experience whenever there is nothing demanding our attention or distracting us. Bit this lack of stimulation can lead to that rare commodity: quiet reflection time.
In our efforts to avoid boredom and instead provide ourselves with continual stimulation/entertainment, have we eliminated that quiet time where we can regroup and touch our innermost feelings?
I recently came across a brilliant piece of writing by a Buddhist teacher named Karen Maezen Miller. Here is a portion of it:
“Are you bored yet? Nowadays, boredom is considered a scourge. We blame boredom for the death of curiosity, learning, productivity, innovation, and commitment. Boredom is the antecedent to all kinds of distractions, disengagements, overindulgences, and infidelities.
The worst crime is being boring, the joke goes, but we all know that the real crimes are likely to come after. In the name of boredom, we overfill our minds, our bodies, our senses, and our time……
When we’re bored, we go looking for something new. And let’s face it: we’re nearly always looking for something new.
It doesn’t matter how much or how little we’ve got – we are somehow convinced that we haven’t got ‘it’, not enough to be completely satisfied or secure. We might think we need something as harmless as a cookie, a game, or a gadget – or another career, lover or child. We might call what we want higher purpose, wisdom, passion, or simply a change of scenery….
Until we are at peace with ourselves, the quest continues. Until we know that there is nowhere else to go, and nothing more to get, we are trapped in delusion. Fighting boredom can become a full time occupation.
….It’s not the feeling of boredom that hurts us; it’s what we do when we try to run away from it.”
from “The Best Buddhist Writing of 2013”, edited by Melvin McLeod and Shambhala Sun.
Frequently I hear commentators talking about how we are all over-stimulated, and that technology has conditioned us to never be disconnected. We are constantly checking our cell phone and our laptop for messages from others, but how often do we check in with ourselves?
Last year I realized that I had the habit of starting my car and immediately turning on the radio. I was so used to noise and stimulation that it felt odd not to have it, and so I quickly filled in the “empty space”. Now I deliberately drive in silence for the first few moments. I check in with myself to see if I want music or if I want quiet. I realized that driving itself provided quite a bit of stimulation, but that I was so used to multiple layers of stimulation that driving without music seemed “boring”.
Now I understand that boredom can become contentment if I relax into it with a contented sigh. But first I had to challenge the assumption that lack of stimulation equals boredom. Sometimes lack of stimulation is necessary for me to experience peace. And stillness. And quietude.
Now I crave silence. I’m not ready to go off and meditate in a cave for 6 months, but I try to have more awareness of the noise and stimulation around me.
When was the last time you risked “being bored” and just sat quietly with no agenda, no stimulation and no pressure to be accomplishing something?
I believe that for many of us, we are in performance mode from the moment we open our eyes to the minute we fall asleep. No wonder we love the idea of going to bed! I think that we all need to have intervals of time each day where we are “off duty”. And not because we are so drained and exhausted that we can no longer perform, but because we are intending to actively “do nothing” for a short period of time. It’s amazing how rejuvenating 15 minutes of silence and stillness can be if it is consciously chosen.
Think about your typical day. What is the longest period of time that you go without checking emails, looking at your phone or talking to someone?
The next time you sit on the sofa and immediately reach for the remote, consider giving yourself some time without stimulation. Once we question the notion that lack of stimulation equals boredom, we can invite our mind to relax, settle and register how we’re feeling. An important step towards peaceful, more enlightened living.