Boredom is a way of not paying attention.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of boredom: The state of being weary and restless through lack of interest.
“One receives as reward for much ennui, despondency, boredom–such as a solitude without friends, books, duties, passions must bring with it–those quarter-hours of profoundest contemplation within oneself and nature. He who completely entrenches himself against boredom also entrenches himself against himself: he will never get to drink the strongest refreshing draught from his own innermost fountain.”
When was the last time you were bored? Were you really bored, or was that what you called your dissatisfied state? Can life be boring? Especially in this day and age, with internet access to knowledge about everything on earth: all music, movies, TV shows, art, university lectures, language programs, social networking, and video games. Is it possible to be bored? I don’t think so.
The next time you think you are bored, ask yourself if that is truly your state of mind, or are you feeling something else? I believe boredom is a code word for when we feel anxious, angry, worthless, lonely, depressed, or grief-stricken, and we don’t want to acknowledge those feelings. Saying you are bored is a subtler way of repressing unwanted thoughts and feelings.
As Nietzsche said, eschew boredom and you miss an amazing opportunity to connect with your innermost self. Boredom is not the enemy to be shunned at all costs, despite our society’s manic agenda to fill every minute with content of one sort or another. It can be a conduit to self-knowledge. Yes, I know it’s not fun to get in touch with unpleasant or disturbing feelings. However, if you avoid them they accrue and wreck havoc in all sorts of unconscious ways, like physical ailments, suddenly lashing out at people, nightmares, addictions, lack of motivation, depression, etc.
On the other hand, you can tap into feeling bored as a doorway into your deepest emotions. For example, notice when you typically get bored.
Are you alone?
With certain people?
Engaged in specific types of activities?
Just having an unscripted moment?
Perhaps, it’s simply a matter of declaring your independence and assertively taking more time to do what you want, rather than pleasing family and friends. Maybe you feel dissatisfied with the same job or hobby and want a change. If neither of those is true, it might be you just feel something unpleasant and call it boredom. If you think that could be what’s going on, sit down, and ask yourself:
What am I really feeling? If nothing immediately comes up, be patient and ask yourself again.
If that still elicits nothing, ask yourself:
What is going on in my life now?
Your primary relationships and work are good places to start. How do you feel when you are with your family, friends, co-workers? Are you fully engaged? Are you daydreaming about other options? Has something radically changed in your life that you might be reacting to with numbness? A death, illness, divorce, empty nest, job loss, etc? Numbness is triggered by our nervous system when we feel threatened or extremely stressed. Numbness can feel a lot like boredom, and vice-versa.
Just sit with whatever feelings show up. Notice where they are in your body and describe those physical feelings with words. Be curious and take the time to describe your sensations as accurately as possible. This can be difficult at first, and requires some patience. (Are you sensing some tension in your back? Tingling in your hands? Heat or cold anywhere? Heaviness in your limbs? Tightness in your shoulders or neck?) Describing the actual physical feelings you are experiencing can have a very grounding effect. Once you get in touch with those physical sensations, write down whatever thoughts and emotions accompany them. It’s great to keep a journal for this; or describe them audibly into a recorder app. (See the Recording and Listening article on this site for more ideas on audio journaling.)
If you think your boredom is born of a sense of meaninglessness, ask yourself what you find meaningful. Are you living in accordance with your values? If you haven’t read it yet, read Viktor Frankl’s book: “Man’s Search For Meaning.”
Don’t feel like plumbing your depths in those ways? Try mindfulness. Pay attention to whatever is going on right now internally, externally, or both. Just embrace whatever comes up, accepting it with as much grace and equanimity as possible. No self-rating allowed, especially self-criticism.
Experiment with switching your activity every hour. If you can’t do that, try every 90 minutes. You will be far more productive and energized.
Conversely, continuous activity, though it is socially sanctioned and appealing in its addictiveness, is not the answer as it simply masks the real issues and leaves you depleted and can compromise your immune system.
Last but not least, if you do find yourself frequently feeling bored resist the urge to put yourself down for it. That only compounds the felony and will make you feel lower than a snake’s wiggle. Accept that this is one of your coping mechanisms and a way to externalize your internal issues. It’s OK. There’s no right way to live, just your way, and that is evolving every minute. If you are not ready to take a sychological depth dive, at least allow yourself the luxury of being where you are. It’s a beautiful gift, and always available if you give yourself a cosmic permission slip.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang