“Only Boring People Get Bored”
It’s a sentiment told to the childhood “Me” by well meaning adults. I’ve heard myself repeat it to my own daughter when she flops on the couch and complains of boredom.
I cringe when I think about my smugness. I recently have been exploring the idea of boredom. It started when my 9-year old started to employ the word to get screen time. While driving in the car she says in a nasal voice that makes me recoil, “Mom, I have nothing to do. I’m bored….” Followed by me asserting the above well meaning sentiment.
Entertain, Divert, Occupy
Here’s the deal. I completely reject the notion that I’m somehow supposed to entertain my child (or other peoples children) all day. Furthermore, I agree with Pamela Paul in her recent article in the New Your Times about boredom being a catalyst for creativity. When I give my daughter a screen it takes the place of her creativity kicking in. I know when I resist the call of boredom, five minutes later she’s deep in a book, plinking away at the piano, or deeply immersed in her legos. Or maybe she’s not doing any of these things but she’s laying around on the couch. Either way, she’s working it out and I’m not coming to her rescue. As Ms. Paul’s article reminds me, “sometimes life is boring. Work is boring, school is boring.” The sooner we develop healthy coping mechanisms to work through boredom, the better.
An Invitation for Deeper Thinking
Or maybe it’s not a coping mechanism we need. On a recent weekend I was listening to a talk on boredom given by Judy Zimmerman. In her wise way, Judy was highlighting the ways that we, adults, cure our own boredom. Like how we fill every waking moment with to do’s or we pack our lives so full of activities that there isn’t time for slowing down for reflection in our lives. I know for me, Judy’s words are powerful and I am struck with a strong realization about how I am avoiding my boredom. Like when I constantly look at my phone or have an unwillingness to do a mundane chore without a podcast. Or how I catch up on phone calls when I go for a walk, or plan every weekend with house projects and bike rides. I just don’t seem to fall prey to boredom, proving to myself that, “I’m not boring” but also taking up all the space that might allow for any deeper contemplation. Judy’s words challenge those of us in the audience to welcome boredom and use it as a tool for deeper thinking.
Judy’s talk reminds me of Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh’s, suggestion to “wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” The idea being that instead of washing the dishes as a means to get the dishes done and move on to something more interesting, we wash the dishes and be present in the moment. Rather than finding some way to entertain my way out of the dishes, I can just enjoy the sensation of warm soapy water. Breathe in. Notice the sensation of the sponge in my hand. Breathe out. Because as Thict Nhat Hanh reminds us, our moments are wasted if we are rushing through chores to get to something else. Or, I can just sit with the feeling of boredom when I do the dishes.
So here’s my take away…It’s not a boring person that gets bored. We all get wrestle with boredom we just have different coping mechanisms to counter it. In fact, we need boredom in our lives and the lives of our children to give us the space for creativity, the time for a deepening of our thinking and our experience. Perhaps I’ll go so far as to say we need boredom more than ever now. It’s a precious resource in our busy lives when many of us don’t seem to find the time for reflection. Inspired, the other day I make the choice to walk to the mailbox without the aid of my phone. My reward is the quiet softness of the breeze and sunlight streaming through the leaves on the trees above me.
What’s your take on boredom? Leave your comments below….
*We offer these blogs, not as “all knowing” people but as humble reflections on our own wins and flails while working with young people. We hope they inspire deeper thinking, reflection and connection. LK and MA