Predictability, monotony and confinement are all key. Any situation that stays the same for too long can be boring. Road trips, gardening and – my own special bête noire – Easter religious services are all fertile sources of boredom. The three of them bedevilled my youth: I had to sit, trapped and wriggling, through the first and third and water the second again and again. A boring person will usually be predictable and repetitive as well, particularly in their speech. Like long-winded lecturers or relatives, the bore’s droning, rheumy intonations don’t seem to go anywhere, or at least not quickly enough. Their repetitive disquisitions confine you in a world of boring words. And time drags to a halt.
Boredom may contain important information (e.g., there is something off that needs to be changed) or it may stem from conditioned patterns of expectations for entertainment, stimulation, and a discomfiture with being alone in a quiet place with ourselves (indeed, the philosopher Pascal said, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”).
Consider the the situation that might contain important information. You are working at your job and you find yourself bored — unchallenged, uninspired, weary. If you’ve given that job your full attention, tried to engage with all your being and you are still getting bored, boredom may indeed be a signal — a harbinger for change. I think this is the minority of cases for boredom, but important ones to pay attention to.
Consider what are likely the majority of boredom situations. Boredom requires a storyline, “I’m bored.” Underlying this is a sense of entitlement to be entertained or a fear to be left alone with our experience. The empty space gets labled “boring” but this is constructed. We could label it something else.
It could be fascinating if you know what to look for and you don’t have to look any farther than your breath. Fritz Perls the inventor of Gestalt Therapy said, “If you are bored, you are not paying attention.”
I like to think of the relationship between boredom and mindfulness as a dialectic. When boredom arises, mindfulness can assert itself — any situation that might otherwise give way to boredom can be one for mindfulness practice. When you are stuck in a monotonous or confining situation that you cannot change, like waiting in line at the DMV, do mindfulness practice. Since you could go away and do nothing but silent practice for ten days on a mindfulness meditation retreat, there are few situations that will present themselves where you couldn’t just spend your time practicing instead of being bored.
The conversation during On Point highlighted the need for unstructured time. A situation that might otherwise be labeled boring, but can be the gateway to daydreaming, creative thinking and contemplation. We inundate ourselves in busyness and do so at our peril. Chronic stress is the chief byproduct of this relentless busyness. There is no time to just be, to just breathe and enjoy the world. There’s no silence to hear what is going on within and to know ourselves better and what direction to go.
There is a richness to situations that might otherwise be labeled “boring” if we can give ourselves permission to enjoy them and to open to what is present both within and without. Sit outside and enjoy the world, whether it is hot, humid, or raining. We can relish boring moments as opportunites for discovery.