Have you been feeling bored? Would you know what bored even is anymore?
There’s literally NOTHING about 2020 that was even remotely “boring,” but can you be afraid and hectic and also bored? Yes.
I used to think of boredom as something we’d bred out of our bodies like a weak gene. Tossed it out like a VHS player and replaced it with TikTok.
But this past weekend I read a (very short) book called The Power of Boredom, a book I’d never heard of by an author I’d never heard of.
And I was riveted… by a book about boredom.
The author, modern-day philosopher and teacher Dr. Mark Hawkins, says that in fact the opposite of boredom isn’t “busy.” Or fun. Or excitement.
The opposite of boredom is…meaning.
And the reason we avoid (and fear) boredom isn’t just because it’s “unnecessary,” but because it can be terrifying to glimpse the void, to even for a moment wonder if anything matters. Boredom can reveal different things to us—making boredom the Rorschach of the soul.
That means it’s not a question of whether we’re too “busy” to be bored. Hawkins says that we’re likely busier because we’re bored.
And the more we distract from boredom, the further we get from meaning.
Rather than something to fear or abolish, he says, boredom is something to embrace. Only then can we get real about what anything means. And treading water in your to-do list can’t do that.
He goes so far as to say that boredom may be the most powerful emotion of all.
“Despite its horrible reputation,” Hawkins writes, “boredom carries the potential to help us create the most compelling life any human can expect to live.”
I was fascinated by that—even more so when he said what to do about it, which isn’t to unsub from Netflix or delete YouTube or stop seeking fun things to eat. Not at all.
What we need is to actually allow ourselves to BE bored—to give ourselves some much needed white space.
What I love about this is that it’s not like you have to be enlightened or virtuous or a Buddhist monk. You can just be flat-out bored from time to time. Not only will you be less afraid of it, but you’ll return renewed and reset so that you can enjoy things more fully than before.
So I tried it. The other night I turned off the TV, closed my computer, put away my phone, and just sat there on my couch, staring into space. I may have nodded off for a few minutes. But it was kinda nice.
The next day I went for a walk, and instead of using that time to listen to a bunch of Voxers or podcasts or catch up on inter-species friendship videos, I didn’t listen to squat. I just walked through the park and let my mind wander, too.
Look, anyone can be busy. And I get that we want to be in demand and booked to the hilt because we’ve been told this is the hallmark of a worthwhile life.
But is that what gives us meaning? Are we the sum total of our tasks and jobs? God I hope not.
We’re certainly not hurting for distraction or fun. What we’re hurting for is a little space to think. What we’re craving is access to our own creativity, our own ideas, our sense of self. Which we could get if we turned everything off for a few minutes and let ourselves just be.
I tell you what. That was not my last visit to Boredom Town. I’ll be stopping by more regularly, on purpose, and not because I accidentally landed there when my internet went down.
Added perk: Admission is free and you can stay there as long as you like.
(The book is well worth the read: The Power of Boredom by Dr. Mark Hawkins.)
PSST…If boredom allows you to come to terms with meaning, it’s no wonder people willing to face off with boredom often feel called to write. Come write with us on Dec 4th–spots still available at the full-day Pop Up: territrespicio.com/popup.