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Idle Hands

Rachel Estapa

Boredom is a strange feeling.  It encompasses a mixture of emotion such as  apathy, hesitation, disillusionment and frustration. When bored, the last place you want to be is locked inside your own head, begging for an escape from the thoughts mockingly saying So, this is it, eh? What’s the purpose of being bored? Is it a distinguishing factor between the engaged and the disengaged? A motivator or alarm? Is it an inconsistency between our ambitions and the necessity to rest? Is it the lack of stress? Is it actually a serene time, and we as modern inhabitants of a 24/7 life cycle, are so dumb-struck by the event that we’re utterly lost if we’re not “doing something.” In eastern thought, especially Buddhism, the concept of nothing doesn’t exist – in fact, what our western minds would view as nothing, in Buddhism, is the ultimate: the annihilation of the ego. For a few years now, I have studied and (mildly) practice some tenants of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, especially taking some time each day to engage in mindfulness meditation, and this practice has really helped me in times of extremes: stress and boredom. In fact, I decided to write this piece because I was gripped with a boredom spell. I wanted to snap out of it,  so I tried to use some creative energy to transform it. I felt like I had something in me to share, and I knew I was feeling bored – so, why not talk about that? Simple is often understated. In positive psychology, boredom correlates to a lack of engagement, but unlike apathy, is really about us feeling frustrated that we’re not doing something. So, there is this level of conscious awareness of our present state and a tension between wanting to be engaged, but not finding the outlet for it. How confusing AND frustrating! In its worst states, boredom can feel like an existential crisis: for a single moment, you may feel like a virtual nobody, dissatisfied with life and with nothing to show for it. But be careful; this isn’t a self-loathing, depressive feeling.  It’s actually a more positive take on your potentials and possibilities. The trick with boredom is that once you’re aware you’re feeling it, your mind  goes on a rampage to shake it.  Some people pick through their cabinets for snacks or may turn to TV to solve the problem, and others become professional Facebookies (…guilty at times) – but these solutions are only temporary remedies and after the fact, we're not only bored once again, but guilty that we snacked too much or wasted a few hours on sub-par TV.  A mild dose of guilty pleasure is just fine; but when it becomes a routine habit and escape, there’s an underlying issue that needs to be dealt with.

So, what can we do to break the boredom snap?  Some tips I suggest are:

  • Sit with your thoughts and try to gauge what your boredom is stemming from. Could it be that you are procrastinating? Are you trying to ward off a decision? Are you agitated at something else? People often want to run away from perceived negative emotions; but I encourage you to run towards them, sit and listen. This takes practice and is very important for a sense of self.
  • Think of something simple & creative that you find a pleasure in, and perhaps, you’ll be inspired to engage in it. Maybe it’s writing, or listening to music, taking a walk or something as mundane as organizing that drawer you’ve been meaning to tackle (…months ago.)
  • Be social Reach out to talk with a friend or close relative. We are wired to connect with other humans.
  • Stand up from where you’re feeling bored and simply move to another area. Environmental change does wonders for the mind and body.
  • Take the pressure off yourself! You’re not a perfectly efficient machine, there’s no hot event in the city you’re missing out on, and there is no “better place to be.” Boredom is an opportunity to hang out with neglected parts of your creative self.
  • It's OK to be still We're uncomfortable with silence and being still, especially when we aren't expecting it. The feeling of needing to always be "doing something" is a struggle for me, so I purposefully create time and space in my day to reflect and wind-down.

So, thanks a lot for sharing my boredom with me – I achieved something I wanted to do: quell boredom, write, and try to understand where my boredom was stemming from.  Yes, everyone gets bored. No, you're not a loser for feeling that way. Although it’s really annoying and frustrating at first, once we get over that fact that you're bored, try to use it to your advantage. Boredom is a signal for us to pay more attention to our own needs. And if all else fails and you're desperate for motivation, there is always C-SPAN!

Take care,