Monday, May 28, 2007

On Boredom

The concept of boredom is supposedly a relatively recent development in the history of mankind. According to this idea, humans were historically so focused on toil and survival that to experience what we know as boredom was unfathomable. This theory holds that boredom is a byproduct of our post-industrial age. Like our ability to produce atomic energy, we are unequipped to appropriately dispose of the toxic byproducts of our advances.

I’m very familiar with the feeling of restless discontent. It happens when I perceive that my life should be going a different way, or when what I’m doing at the moment seems needlessly repetitious, mundane or otherwise unsatisfying. It’s at such times that I try to remember a simple, powerful technique for bringing me back to a state of gratitude, alertness and emotional fullness.

I remind myself that it’s a luxury to feel empty and unfulfilled. Nobody fighting to stay alive has the time to be bored. This simple acknowledgment brings me back to a state of gratitude and a sense of the preciousness of each moment. I can't entirely go along with Madame de Stael that "one must choose in life between boredom and suffering", but I agree that in order to avoid mundane emotions one must actively engage whatever reality this moment brings, a conscious act of choice often requiring great effort.

The blessed state of events that allow me to be bored could change at any minute. History is replete with moments just before the shit-rain falls. September 10th, 2001 is a recent example, but its predecessors form a line back to antiquity and will continue into the future, writ both large and small. There’s the day before the heart attack strikes. The weeks before the Nazis invaded Poland. The peaceful Thai beaches just before the tsunami struck. The fleeting moments before betrayal, abandonment, fear, panic, loss, ruination, and other wrenching hardships are not to be taken lightly.

Remembering that the luxury of boredom can be taken away in an instant gives me the missing alchemical ingredient to transmute the dull lead of discontent into the gold of gratitude. I wish I didn't keep forgetting that. Oh, and if this didn't help, here's a list of things to do when you're bored.

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