Boredom

 

I am sitting in meditation in a yoga class. The teacher is giving her opening spiel around settling in and being with the troubling ways of the mind. At one point she says, “It has to get boring as hell for us to be able to notice, that it is actually, not.” Yes, I think. I know this to be true for myself, and for what I saw with my own children when they were growing up. The way that suddenly the inertia of the boring-ness will bust out into something truly vital and engaging if given half a chance; turning into something both mesmerizing and alive. Exactly the opposite of boring.

And then I think, What is to become of the ones who will never experience boredom? The ones who will never have the chance to bust through to the other side. The ones who are growing up now terrified and avoidant of ever getting anywhere near this experience. And the myriad of parents training their children to believe that boredom is akin to subjecting their kids to the plague; leaving them to run their children ragged with too many things to do, and too many ways to fill their minds.

And then of course, there are the screens, and their glowing  promise to keep any of us from ever having to experience such a difficult and noxious state. But what if this is all wrong? What if boredom holds something truly precious for each and every one of us in the most quintessential of human ways?

What if boredom was exactly the state that would bring us back to noticing The Great Mystery? The truly precious nature of human existence? That which is beyond the busyness and the drive to be entertained 24/7. Would we accept boredom then?

Boredom is defined as the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest. Maybe this is exactly what it takes. A kind of weariness and restlessness that arises out of the absence in our lives of anything that truly grabs our attention, that we may then go on to find what it is that is actually worthy of that very same precious attention. But in order for us to make use of this valuable and necessary information we would actually have to leave some space in our lives; making a commitment to not fill it up with something. For armed with this kind of knowing we are primed to build and build and build in our discomfort until it finally reaches a critical mass that serves to propel us forward into something more life-affirming.

But now, because there is always something in the form of a screen to fill that void, immediately and continuously, that fertile space of boredom never gets a chance to pull us in, and then to sling shot us back out into that which captivates and motivates.

And herein lies one of our biggest problems in The Age of Technology; how can we notice the lack of something not happening? How are we to notice that because there is no space, there is no boredom, and therefore no compelling experience towards what we did not even know we are missing out on? This is the trade-off now that we are up against.

It sounds kind of crazy to even suggest what I am about to suggest. To even be living in a time and place where we actually have to create space to be bored, but here we are. Could you imagine it? Could you imagine making a point in your life to be bored? Could you imagine not filling the gap when the urge arises with a screen? Could you imagine when your children came to you and said, “I’m bored,” you said, “Great,” and then left them to their own devices (and not the electronic ones)? Could you imagine not filling the space for them out of guilt or some preconceived idea that they must always be entertained?

Taking on boredom willingly just might be one of the most revolutionary things any one of us could do not only for our own lives, but for the greater good of all. A kind of antidote and balm to all of the incessant doing and filling of the paltry empty space any of us even has.

Ironically enough, even with all that we have to occupy ourselves, look around and notice how many of us appear “weary and restless” despite our most obvious lack of boredom.

Settling Down

I am in the woods with my husband on a clear cold day. We decide to sit on a log that crosses over a little stream to meditate. The setting is idyllic. The sounds from the water soothing. The company stellar. My body comfortable and cozy. I have nowhere to be but where I am.

And yet, the mind. Oh, how it goes. Everywhere.

As I am sitting, supposedly meditating, I start to notice the pressures and the disturbances of my thoughts. It begins to dawn on me that even when the external circumstances couldn’t be more supportive, it just takes time for some things to settle down inside. And when there is no judgment about how long this takes, or the particular forms that it arrives in, there is no problem with this; on any level.

From this perspective, it just becomes a really, really good thing to know. For if I can recognize this about myself, that it sometimes takes time, even a lot of time, to settle down, it gives me the courage to stay. And in the staying, I leave myself open to what comes after the disturbance, the chaos, and the confusion.

Many of us never put ourselves in the position of just being with whatever is happening in the mind; instead, working our tail off to get out of it. Or change it. Or fix it. Or obliterate it. Or cover it up. The “it” being all of the things that we simply cannot tolerate. The things that we just do not want to be there. And because we cannot be with “it,” we never give ourselves a chance to come through to the other side, and have that experience.

So maybe the issue is not what many of us would say it is. That being the impossibility or the difficulty of being with the disturbances and the chaos of the mind. But maybe instead, it is about our willingness to ride it out. Our faith even, that this too shall pass.

The thing with this one though is that you cannot get there merely by thinking about it as an idea. You actually have to experience it, by doing it. You have to practice waiting it out. Sitting there. Counting to 10. Watching the intensity of the thoughts as they pick up steam towards some unseen crescendo, and then start to come back down again.

From a practical standpoint, you might even time yourself in increments. As in for today, I am going to sit un-moving and un-changing, being with my thoughts as they are, for 1 minute. And if that is too much, half it, and then half it again. Because if it really is about the willingness to stay, any amount is just as good as any other amount of time.

Things Worth Keeping

 

While there are so many benefits to and efficiencies brought through the use of our screen technologies, I am often struck by the things that are being lost. Sometimes what’s going missing comes in the form of the really big and more readily identifiable as important things in our lives; obvious losses that are more easily apparent. Ones that we would want to be on the lookout for. At other times, though, it comes in the form of seemingly insignificant things and ways of being, that while subtle, actually add up to much greater losses than what we might initially imagine.

Lately for me, this reveals itself in the simple and dependable form of a dictionary.

Because I write every week, I run into my dictionary on a regular basis, along with its invaluable counterpart, the thesaurus. I know I could do all of this online. I know I could save myself “the trouble” of getting up; choosing instead to sit un-moving in front of a screen. I know that it might appear to someone else as inconvenient, too effortful or old- fashioned to do something by hand that the computer could take care of. That perhaps my choice would appear as unnecessary from a modern technological standpoint.

But in the nitty-gritty of what it feels like to be me in my life, I find that I actually do not care about any of the rational reasons around this. Why? Because I know something else to be true. And that something else is that the use of these two amazing books gives back and feeds me in ways that no device ever could.

I love the fact that I have to get up to go get either or both of these two inspiring writing companions. I love opening the door to the cabinet where they live. It feels as if I am going to visit wise and trusted friends who sit patiently waiting to offer their help as I need it. And while the distance to the cabinet is a mere few feet from where I sit, I love the chance to stand up, stretch, and move my way over to what I need; getting back into my body by getting upright, bending over, getting upright again, and then remaining standing while I look something up.

I love the way that my mind needs to change gears as I sort through the letters and their particular order to get to the specific word that I am looking for. And then once finding the word, slowing down in my thoughts and movements as I pause and ponder over what I am looking at. All of those possibilities there for the choosing. All of those definitions and interpretations that will assist me in clarifying and enriching what it is that I really want to say. While I am doing all of this, it is not lost on me that as I wonder and integrate what it is that I am reading I just feel differently than I do when I read off of a screen. Better somehow, in all ways. (Not to mention the side benefit to my eyes which naturally soften and relax back as I switch from the screen with all of its light and intensity, to the soft and powerful written word on a page.)

And then there is the love for the feel, and especially the weight, of each of the books; a kind of intimacy brought through the physical holding of the content at hand. A satisfying experience of turning pages, and a visceral reminder for me of being in a body. A shared encounter between me and this body of work. An experience of being with, as opposed to sitting in front of. An experience of a deep and quiet exchange as opposed to the feeling of being in the midst of a loud and unruly crowd.

This experience always serves to remind me that I am, in fact, embodied; immediately changing me from the one who is hunched over and robotically pecking away, to the one who stands in herself and holds something vast and significant in her hands. Weirdly enough, I even love the old book smell. I love knowing that these texts have been around for a very long time, and that other people that I am connected with have held and used these books in the past. Just as I am doing now.

Most of all, I always feel more myself when I am done. More in my body. More slowed down. More me. And sometimes I even get the added benefit of being taken on a ride, a flight of fancy, into unknown places as my eye catches other words along the way that teach, inspire, connect, inform, and sometimes even offer the most astonishing of synchronicities.

Truly, I cannot imagine writing without these books. I cannot imagine risking the loss of not only all that they give me in any given moment, but also all that they represent. As in, a most exquisite and quintessentially human experience of being alive.

Isn’t this all exactly the point here? To find ways, in our own way, to stay human in the midst of all of this? To be the ones who decide what gets to stay and what gets to go? To be the ones who get to choose what things are worth keeping? Not because they make sense through the lens of modern day ease, convenience or progress, but because they just feel good, right somehow, and are therefore, worth keeping.

And so I say, in the spirit of preserving what is truly worth keeping, isn’t being in the daily weight and feel of our own lives one of the most important things we all need to be holding onto?

Blue Sky

 

Last night as the snow started to come in, I couldn’t help but think of how blessed I was to be inside; warm, protected, able to enjoy the snow as a spectator sport, as opposed to it being some kind of a threat to my survival or comfort. It got me to wondering about times and places where we as a people had to live much, much closer to the truths and realities of the natural world with all of its raw power, strength, beauty and struggle.

And so I guess it should have come as no surprise that when I stepped out to go for a walk the next morning, so excited at the prospect of being in the woods in what I had imagined in my mind as a magical fairy tale stroll through a beautiful, white, lacey forest experience, that I would run into another reality.

Because the 6 inches of last night was soft and powdery, it did not protect me from sliding on the ice that was below it. Nor did it keep me from breaking through a hard crust in other places; creating this jarring experience where I kept thinking one of my knees was going to shoot out the back of my leg each time I broke through the upper crust. And because I had so many layers on to combat the cold, and had not anticipated working so hard, the effort, stress and heat of it all was kicking off hot flashes in my body which then went on to trigger intense inflammation in my mind.

Why I am here? Why did I do this to myself? It is not supposed to be like this. Oh, my God, this again?? I was so hot and bothered on my “magical” walk that I could barely¬† stand myself.

And then, in the midst of all the heat, somehow it occurred to me to stop. Just stop. And that is when I saw the sky; that kind of clear and vibrant blue that only comes in after a storm has cleared everything out. Seeing that cool, cool blue cooled me out enough to realize: I had a choice. So I took off my coat. Things began to change after that.

I slowed my pace to compensate for the conditions. I started noticing tracks: deer, moose, rabbit, and coyote. I looked at the sky. Again and again. I talked to the trees. I loosened my legs and softened my shoulders. And each time my mind would jump to how it should be other than what it was, I stopped; standing there until the truth of what was around me brought me back to where I actually was. So much so that when the noise of the chain saws of the loggers down the road made their way to where I was, it did not alter one bit the magic of the forest.

We believe that things have to be just so, so that we can be OK. This is one way to live. But there is another. One that says; be here just as it is. One that says; learn to include it all. One that says: teach yourself to pause and make the necessary adjustments. One that says; get out of your comfort zone so that you can see the sky.

Truly, there is no finer teacher than the natural world. If you really want to line up with what is; get outside. As often as you can. And as often as you can, let yourself be moved by something real, raw and beautifully uncomfortable; knowing that there is truth in discomfort. But only if you can remember to pause long enough for it to reveal itself to you.