The Other Side of Boredom

Boredom.  The act of doing nothing.  Not knowing what to do.  Not knowing what you want to do.  Not really wanting to do anything.  And yet being restless that nothing is going on.

When my kids were little, we called it “the can’t help its”…when they would get into a mood, you know, THAT mood, and nothing seemed to soothe their little souls.

Boredom can be an unsettling state of being.  There is a restlessness that comes with it, a sense of uneasiness, frustration, even anxiety.

So we end up striving to avoid boredom at all costs.  Especially in today’s hyper-achievement-oriented world, where even a trip to the bathroom is most often accompanied by a flick through Facebook or a game of solitaire, we avoid silence and stillness at all costs.

I see it in myself, in my scrolling through emails when I just checked them a few moments ago, thumbing through Facebook even though there is nothing really new to see. Starting a game of sudoku instead of just sitting and catching my breath.

I see it in my adult kids, who have their phones in their hands almost all the time, no different from their peers in this fact. 

I see it in the children I work with, unable to regulate emotions of frustration and boredom because they’ve grown up with the instant gratification of technology and overly doting parents. 

But what, truly, is the problem with that?  Our culture values the doers, the ones who are active and achieving and always accomplishing.  Isn’t this need to have our brains constantly occupied a sign of our efficiency and effectiveness in an ever-hustling world?

Boredom, by it’s very definition, is a state of unrest, and who wants that?  Avoid at all costs, right?

Yet, what lies on the other side of boredom?  What waits for us in the stillness of our brains?

Could it be that we are missing out on what truly makes us unique, the time for thoughts and dreams and ideas that make us miraculously one-of-a-kind?

Boredom is sitting with nothingness.  Nothing to do, nothing you really want to do, nothing critical to think about.  It’s discomfort is two fold, both in a feeling of uselessness within an activity-driven life, and a sense of emptiness in a consumer-based brain we strive to keep full 24/7.

And yet sitting with boredom is actually an act of self-care.  Recognizing we have a break, a pause in our hustle, allows us to settle into a moment of stillness and breathe in space we seldom allow ourselves. 

Boredom is a pause. It’s a time-out from our over-busy minds. And it is in the pause where the magic happens. 

Without time to slow down, without allowing ourselves time to sip coffee without reading the news or to take a walk with no music except the symphony of nature, without finding ourselves on a Sunday afternoon with chores done and groceries bought and nothing else to occupy our time, we would fall victim of meaningless activity. 

In education, teachers call it “busy work”, the work we give children just to keep them occupied. As adults, we fill our lives with busy work, things to do that are of no true value.

The need to stay busy is a human construct.  It isn’t found in nature. The farmer’s soil has to rest and renourish between crops.  The mother hawk perches on a branch after the hatchlings’ morning flying lessons.  An entire season, one quarter of the year, is spent in Winter, a time to rest, hibernate, and prepare.  Even the Creator of the Universe took time off and encouraged us to do the same.

There is a magic that awaits on the other side of boredom, if we just allow ourselves to get there.  It’s the stillness and space to dream, to pray, to meditate.    Boredom is when our thoughts begin wandering, taking us on unplanned adventures to unexpected locations. It allows us to weave and zig-zag through our thoughts and dreams, places we don’t attend to when we’re busy checking off items on our to-do lists. It is the clearing of the cluttered mind that allows us to become open to inspiration and creativity.

Most of us don’t have our best ideas in the middle of checking Instagram or in a loud, agenda-filled board meeting.

We find it in the solitude of the shower.  In the car ride to work (if we stay off the phone).  In the walk in the woods.  In playing with a young child.  In taking an extra moment to watch a loved one sleep next to us.

Our ideas, our solutions, our creativity comes to visit us in the nothingness. That’s where it lives.

The beauty of life, what makes it rich and fertile and so worth all the hard stuff, is found on the other side of boredom.

But we have to allow ourselves to get there, to get past the sense of unease and frustration that comes from being idle. We need to give ourselves unbridled permission to do “nothing”.

If we do not give ourselfves the gift of nothingness, then we never allow our souls time and space to refuel with energy and vibrancy.

If we do not wallow in an occasional sense of restlessness we can never truly listen to what our heart is telling us it yearns for.

Adopting the concept of essential down time, time with no agenda, no outcome, no hurrying, could hold the power to restore our creative energies, giving us time to reflect on our lives and our worlds in ways only our unique selves can do.

The beauty that lies in the state of nothingness is what makes it worth all the rest.

Breathe deeply. Turn off the electronics. Tune into your heart. In the stillness it will speak to you.

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