The other day I opened up Tumblr — it was someone else's idea, honest — and was immediately confronted with a flyout button asking me to sign up for an account. It read "YOU'LL NEVER BE BORED AGAIN."
My first thought was, "Oh, yeah?" My second thought was, "What's wrong with being bored?"
Some of you might remember a recent study that involved people electing to shock themselves rather than endure a little boredom. I was a little suspicious of the methodology, and consequently of the conclusions, but I thought there was something to it all the same.
Most people don't want to have anything to do with their boredom. They disown it. They try to bury it with noise and TV shows and an endless Twitter-feed scroll, and it never works. The minute you take away the distraction, the boredom returns. Clearly the problem doesn't lie with the things we stuff ourselves with not being sufficiently entertaining; it's with us. But that's more of a project than most of us want to take on, I guess.
Krishnamurti spoke of this in one of his books: if you find yourself confronted with boredom, why not actually just try being bored for a while and maybe seeing if you can find out where your boredom really comes from? Why gorge yourself on distractions?
I hate making it sound like I'm denigrating all of modernity when I say things like this. There's a lot about the moment we're in that is really quite nice when it comes to being able to choose what to feed ourselves with. I can open up a web browser and order pretty much any book that's ever been in print! The vast majority of recorded or filmed culture is a click away! Lectures by some of the greatest minds that walked the earth in the past century are mine for the listening! And so on.
What gets me is when people try to blame their boredom on anything but themselves. And by this I don't mean we should go around blaming other people for their own boredom; I mean this is something we have to confront on our own, individually. This is not easy and, again, I'm betting most people won't do it, but it seems the only workable antidote.
One of the little side effects that sitting zazen did for me, after a decade or so of practice, was that it gave me the freedom to see boredom as just another thing that comes and goes, that sometimes it's okay to not feel obliged to do anything at all. (A nice thing about zazen is that if you don't feel like doing anything, it gives you a way to do nothing very constructively.)
Again, I suspect many people squint sidelong at you when you say things like "What's wrong with being bored?" because they don't like the idea of being told by someone else that they should suck up their boredom. (They don't always seem to have a problem doing the telling, though.) I agree: this isn't something you can proscribe, only something you can find for yourself. Everyone who can, should.
It always seems to come down to something like that. The things that would seem tasteless and imperious when forced upon us — like boredom — can become tools of our own liberation if we seek them out on our own with the right mindset. That tells me it's the tools, not the forcing, that are what matter most.
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