Boredom is a strange thing. It essentially occurs when we judge our current situation to lack interest or quality. This can apply to anything - from an unwanted job we've been stuck with, to a relationship or friendship that seems to have lost its spark. And, when we feel the dull, heavy presence of boredom, fermenting oppressively inside, our usual impulse is to change the situation. We want to run away, hoping desperately to find something, somewhere or someone else that seems more exciting. And fair enough, sometimes we are right about the situation lacking value. In that case, we're doing ourselves a favour by seeking change, looking to shake things up.
Sometimes though, our judgement can be flawed or inaccurate: our situation does have value, we just somehow haven't realised this. Our preconceptions have let us down. Somehow, hidden behind the boredom maybe experiences that could be rewarding, interesting, even life-changing. As such, if we permit ourselves to stay with the boredom awhile - instead of trying to escape, as we usually would - these experiences might become revealed to us. Here are a couple of suggestions for how to pierce through some common experiences of boredom, and the rewards that you might find if you do …
Finding creativity and insight through inaction
The mind thrives on activity and busyness. It is primed by evolution to be constantly on the lookout for danger and novelty. Likewise, the nature of thinking is to race headlong from one thought to the next, like a runaway train. Needless to say, this kind of cognitive whirring can be very valuable. However, it can also be the enemy of creativity and insight, which rely on mysterious dynamics beneath the surface of our conscious mind. Crucially, these dynamics often require the conscious mind to be inactive in order to occur. This is why great creative insights frequently occur to people when they're not busily engaged in tasks, perhaps while daydreaming or doodling.
The trouble is, this inactivity can feel boring, as the conscious mind thinks it has nothing to do. And, as a result, we tend to search around for for distractions and tasks to fill the space. Unfortunately, this then closes down opportunities for unconscious inspiration to bubble up from the depths. So, the next time you're feeling bored - maybe on a monotonous commute home, or while waiting for your favourite TV programme to start - perhaps try to resist the urge to distract yourself. Put away the smartphone for a while! If you allow yourself a little time and space to simply be inactive, while it might feel boring, who knows what great insights or creative urges might emerge shyly from the shadows!
Becoming mindfulness through monotony.
Over recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to avoid seductive pitches for the value of mindfulness. You may have even been compelled to try it out yourself. However, it can seem so hard to carve out 30 minutes in your day to sit eyes-closed on a cushion, what with all the boring chores and tasks we need to do. But… there is good news. Strangely enough, these very chores might actually be the ideal vehicle for experiencing mindfulness. Not for nothing do Zen monasteries require their inhabitants to spend hours on tasks like sweeping and cleaning. This is not only about keeping the place itself nice; the action itself can be a valuable route to peace and tranquillity. That is, if the task is embraced with full attention, its repetitive nature can actually become meditative.
So, next time you're faced with a huge pile of dishes, instead of seeing the task as something to hurry through as fast as possible, maybe try to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. Pay attention to the feel of the soapy water on your skin, the sheen of the bubbles in the sunlight, the sound of the crockery clinking. You may find that the task takes you to unexpected places of calm, and can open up into a surprisingly enjoyable experience. And this applies to boredom more generally. Once we let go of our mental preconceptions - the ones that made us rush to judgement and condemn something as 'boring' - there may be all kinds of mysteries waiting to be revealed.
The Positive Power of Negative Emotions is out now.