You know what's funny? In spite of our modern epidemic of busy-ness, and the ever-increasing number of ways to stimulate your senses, we, culturally, have never been more bored. Do you notice that? Have you noticed how bored everyone is?
Take a look around you, and look for some of the signs:
- People out for dinner, drinks or coffee with each other, checking their phones
- People spending hours on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites
- The ever-increasing prevalence of habitual spending and shopping
Here's the big thing: All of those things you do when you're bored? They don't solve it - they numb you to it. Numbing yourself to boredom is a lot different than actually resolving it.
One of my mentors and coaches, Jodi Jan Larson, describes boredom not as a lack of stimulation, but a lack of generation. That doesn't sound so significant until you think about it.
First, it means that boredom is on us. Saying "I'm bored" to someone as a complaint really has us acting at effect to that boredom. It hides in it the suggestion that something or someone external to us should change so as to resolve that complaint.
If you want to overcome boredom, you get to be at cause to do so. You can generate whatever you want.
So, if we hold Jodi's definition to be true, and the problem is one of boredom, then seeking out more stimulation will not solve the problem. Not surprisingly, we have developed a culture where that is precisely what we are locked in doing. When we're bored, we seek out stimulation: TV, video games, a trashy book, Facebook, etc.
These solutions merely pass the time, and numb us to the fact that we are bored. Framed this way, I can really see the costs of numbing myself with pursuits like TV and video games. It actually becomes self-perpetuating. Because I numb myself, I never get underneath what is causing my boredom. As a result, the boredom persists, and I numb myself again.
It's an addictive cycle, like any other — the addiction is to stimulation.
When did stillness become so excruciating to us? I have a suspicion that it is tightly intwined with our culture of busy-ness. If we are constantly in need of striving and doing something more, then stillness becomes impossible. It's a sign that something is wrong, rather than that something is right.
Our culture has created a bizarre shift. Originally, leisure time was regarded as something highly valuable. People longed to create those situations where they were able to sit idly and peacefully. It was considered a luxury to be able to sit on a deck, doing nothing.
But at some point, that all changed. At some point, it started to become painful to sit idly, without something to do. These days, we are unable to do it. Stillness is no longer regarded as something noble. It's regarded as boring.
In all of this, we've lost sight of the fact that boredom is actually a gift. It's a message from ourselves that there's something missing for us, in the moment. Sometimes, it's as simple as realizing the gift that a few minutes of peace represents. Other times, it's an opportunity to ask what has you bored? What's missing in this moment that has boredom as your experience?
[Tweet "We've lost sight of the fact that boredom is a gift."]
Shifting my focus from stimulation to generation requires addressing what is missing, and actually generating that, instead of flipping on the TV. Is there a lack of connection? Time to call up some friends and see what they're up to. Maybe it's as simple as chatting on the phone. Maybe I'm deeply dissatisfied with my job and all that time on Facebook allows me to distract myself from that fact. If that's the case, what is there for me to take on next?
Boredom is a gift, and we've lost our appreciation for that gift. It's time to reclaim it. Put down the phone, shut off the TV, and close your eyes. Get back in touch with yourself.
Rather than providing queueing questions like we normally would, I want to enroll you in something. I have a challenge for you:
The challenge is to take a numbing cleanse.
Here are the steps to the challenge:
1. Identify what things you do to keep yourself from being bored. How do you fill up your time when you don't have something you need to do?
2. Declare a cleanse of those things. If it's Facebook, announce it to your Facebook friends, and take a cleanse from it for 30 days.
3. Notice what comes up throughout this month and share it here.
It is my desire that we take this on together. I don't want to do this alone, because that's lonely. I want you, our readers, to take this challenge on as well. Get reacquainted with the gifts that your boredom can provide you. Share this post on Facebook, and invite other people to take the numbing cleanse with you.
[Tweet "Tired of being bored? Take the numbing cleanse!"]
For me, I'm taking a video game cleanse. No video games until March 1, 2014. No playing games on my phone, no playing games on my computer, no playing games anywhere else. Every time I have the urge to, I go and meditate for five minutes instead, simply creating the space for me to expand in to.