“The world is filled
with magic things patiently waiting
for our senses to grow sharper.”
Growing up, my mom and I lived 2 miles up a dirt road, in a tiny cabin, with no TV or electricity, and one radio station that I got through my tiny battery-powered radio. There was very little distraction or entertainment and whenever I would complain to her that something was boring, she would reply, “it’s not boring; you’re bored.”
At the time I found this incredibly irritating, but I’ve come to really appreciate her wisdom and now I even say it to my own children because she is absolutely right—there is nothing boring about existence. Feeling bored is often misinterpreted as something being wrong with the external world—life is not interesting enough. But boredom is a representation of our internal world, it’s all about us and our perception.
So what is boredom? Here’s what I think:
Boredom is a) our unwillingness to fully feel what’s true for us, and b) our inability to look deeply enough at the present moment.
If we weren’t all so quick to avoid feeling bored, if we allowed ourselves to stay with boredom just a little while longer, it’s very likely the boredom would shift and reveal something underneath that we’re even less comfortable feeling.
We use boredom as a mask. Often people jump to ‘I’m bored’ as a catch-all for ‘I don’t want to feel what I’m feeling right now’. Most people never just be still long enough to even notice that there might be something underneath boredom.
But I believe it is rarely boredom that has us turn on the TV, or scroll through Facebook in the grocery store line, or do anything other than just be. The deeper feelings are usually sadness, grief, anger, hopelessness, and in order to meet these feelings inside ourselves, we have to get past feeling bored. It takes a lot to willingly and consciously feel all there is to feel just from being alive in this day and age. Life really is indescribably beautiful and it is also heartbreaking. The problem is, we can’t just avoid the heartbreak and still get all the joy and beauty; they are inextricably tied and they both require being willing to feel what’s actually going on.
So many people are so afraid of being bored, they create their whole lives around avoiding boredom. The problem with setting up your life to avoid boredom is that it becomes very hard to know what is truly your next right step towards the thing you most deeply want because we can’t move towards our truth until we’ve dealt with the thing we’re trying to run away from.
Imagine going on a road trip from San Francisco to Portland, and, rather than mapping the route towards Portland, you simply started driving to avoid cows the whole way. You might still make it to Portland, but I bet it would take a lot longer and you’d go in a lot of strange directions.
So the first step is learning to be comfortable being bored and to stop orientating our lives so we never feel boredom. Then the real fun begins because the truth is: There are no boring moments, rather boredom is a symptom of our inability to look deeply enough at the present moment.
Once, when I was living at Tassajara Zen Monastery, I remember sitting in the meditation hall, after what felt like endless hours and days of (boring) silent meditation, staring at a blank, white wall. And suddenly there was this moment, where I still saw the blank, white wall, but I also saw everything else, literally the entire universe, all the stars and trees and planets and mountains and creatures and oceans and wildflowers—in that same ½ inch square of blank, white wall.
Every moment is so full and so rich exactly the way that it is. Right now I can feel the cool, smooth sensation of the keys under my fingers, hear the pulsating chirp of crickets outside, feel the heat of one foot resting on the other and the delicious feeling of taking a deep, full breath.
I can tell you all of this, but most of you won’t really believe me. You are waiting for a better moment than this one to pay attention to. But there isn’t one.
We’re all going to get bored at some point, and if we can’t come to terms with that, we’re going to live at the mercy of our inability to feel bored for the rest of our lives and won’t be able to truly make decisions for our highest good. When we learn to sit with that boredom without running away, we can train our minds to see the whole universe in every moment.