Readers of all ages write to me regarding boredom. Some are bored with their routines, others with their partners, and many are bored with their lives altogether.
Notably, parents ask me what they should tell their children when they say they don’t want to study, citing the reason as being bored. I classify boredom into two categories: lazy boredom and active boredom. In either case, your mind wants you to move away from the object of boredom. You lose sharpness of the mind when you experience boredom; it makes you either restless or lazy.
I have seen hundreds who start fidgeting with things, and many start wobbling their legs when they are bored. The feeling is subtle but significant in this case. You don’t shake your legs when watching a thriller or reading a good book, for example.
Often, when boredom is due to lack of interest, it makes one sleepy. The mind starts to slow down as if preparing itself for sleep. This is lazy boredom. This is what happens before you fall asleep; your mind begins to slow down. A mind racing with thoughts, one swollen with emotions, needs to calm down.
However, when you feel bored because your environment fails to stimulate you, you become fidgety. It makes you restless. This is active boredom. It means your mind is active and wants to be engaged elsewhere, where there is something new for it, some stimulation of a different type.
Personally, I believe there is nothing wrong with feeling bored. If this feeling was so baneful, we would still be living in the stone age. Somewhere in our evolution and growth, boredom played a significant role. Some of the greatest inventions did not just take place out of necessity, but out of boredom, simply because someone was bored and wanted something new.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then boredom may well be the father, because boredom triggers the need for innovation. If you feel sleepy when you are bored, it means you need to stimulate your mind and find something that may interest you. However, if what you are doing is important and you cannot afford to get bored, take it easy. Revisit your subject after refreshing your mind. Just like in meditation, everyone has a limit. Some start to feel bored within the first ten minutes; many can go on for thirty minutes and so forth. With conscious effort, you can raise your limit of boredom!
Boredom means you are not just an animal without intellect. It means you have been blessed with intelligence and thinking power.
It particularly holds true for those who feel restless when bored. They are intertwined: restlessness feeds boredom, and boredom fuels restlessness. There are two interesting things you should know about feeling bored. Let me elaborate with an anecdote:
Committed to the practice of meditation but not getting anywhere, a disciple approached his master and said, “I’m feeling bored and restless. I’m unable to meditate.”
“Don’t worry, don’t react. It’ll pass. Don’t lose your resolve. Stay the course,” the guru said.
A few weeks later, he sounded really happy and said, “Oh, I’m having the greatest time of my life. Meditation has never been so good.”
“Don’t get excited; don’t react. It’ll pass too. Don’t lose sight of your path. Stay the course,” replied the guru.
Clearly, this is true not just for meditation but for many other aspects too. People get bored in relationships, in jobs, in their lives, and so on. The first thing you need to know about boredom is that it is cyclical, and it is temporary.
When you get bored with something, you cannot escape. Practice acceptance and alertness with resolve, and you will get over the feeling in no time. There is little or no room for boredom where there is attachment and devotion. A mother rarely gets bored of her child, but a restless child can quickly get bored of his mother. Eventually, it boils down to your priorities.
The second thing you should know about boredom: you choose to be bored. Yes, this is true. When you let your restless mind take you over, you feel fidgety and bored. And when your lazy mind overpowers you, you feel sleepy and bored. It’s as simple as that.
If you start regarding boredom as a good thing, your mind will stop retaliating. It requires awareness for you to realise when you are getting bored; you become your own witness. Acceptance and alertness, when bored, help you to overcome lazy boredom. Awareness and relaxation help you to overcome the restless feeling.
It is okay to be bored sometimes. Accept it. Be at ease with it. If you want to overcome it, do so with awareness. In my months of solitude in the Himalayas, when there was no electricity, no one else to talk to, no piles of books, no music, not even birds, only snow and white snow around, I did not allow myself to fall prey to boredom. I simply meditated.
When tired of meditation, I practiced contemplation, and when tired of contemplation, I did meditation. If you are committed to discipline, boredom can’t touch you because boredom is mostly an excuse and rarely the reason. A bored mind is a devil’s workshop.
In the words of the phenomenal British thinker, Bertrand Russell:
“Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist since half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.”
Once you get past the wave of boredom, you will find yourself in an ocean of bliss. Your intellect becomes razor sharp and rises to the surface of your very being, then it grants you insight.