Did you ever ask yourself – what is boredom ?
Per definition, boredom is a mood, a lasting emotional state, characterized by low interest and low energy. I get bored when I feel trapped in having to do tedious, repetitive tasks, or when I am forced to do something I don’t want to do or when I have to listen, or deal with people or subjects I rather want to avoid. There seems to be an inherent anxiety in boredom. And on the other end of the spectrum, the opposite of boredom, that would be excitement.
So let us explore the nature of boredom, if you will.
First let us look at the quality of boredom. It’s hallmark is a heavy dullness, a crippling sense of low energy, like a system in low gear – but pushing up against resistance. Boredom feels loaded, subdued, muffled – it feels like being really tired, with heavy limbs and wadded brain. And then there is this urge wanting to get out of it.
Did you ever go into your own feeling of boredom ? This is what I discovered. Boredom is an affective state lacking interest and is marked by the inability to concentrate on the current activity. It is maybe what Eckhart calls “falling below thought”, but I actually would call it “putting oneself apart and outside of an current activity and stubbornly refuse to engage fully in whatever is at hand”.
There are three kinds of boredom:
First I can become bored with something – like waiting for someone. But I can also get bored by something, like having to do a repetitive task and getting too much of the same thing. But lastly, and this kind of boredom seems to be the most interesting – there is existential or creative boredom. The first two seem to be transient – after all, the person I am waiting for will finally arrive and the task that does not provide sufficient mental stimulation, will one day be finished. But there seems to be another, more persistent type of boredom, that has to do with a perceived emptiness of one’s own existence.
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger dissected boredom in “Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics” , a part of his exploration of Dasein (Being). The German word for boredom is Langeweile, literally “to have a long time”. Heidegger derives his consideration of it from the notion of a “profound boredom;” its relation to time is key. Boredom leads to time, time leads to boredom.
So it is becoming clear, that boredom is actually a very profound pointer for a state of separation. When I am bored, I am not in the flow of things, I am outside, setting myself apart. On one hand it is a state that is looking for the relief of distraction, but also has a certain expectation of the type of diversion. I am waiting for something or someone to relieve me from my current state of being understimulated. I am looking on the outside to remedy a perceived lack on the inside.
“I feel empty” – this is what I keep hearing very often when people describe their condition and the background mood, and this is bringing boredom in close proximity to states of frustration, depression or laziness. They all are characterized by low energy and a sense of resignation. Frustration is marked by a sense of annoyance , depression by physical and mental exhaustion, but laziness is a a particular state of apathy, indulgence and denial. As a matter of fact, in laziness – or sloth – is one of the seven deadly sins, It is the refusal to use one’s own talent or skill, neglecting one’s calling or purpose in life.
All of these states – frustration, depression and laziness may be compensatory mechanisms for boredom and they all point deeper still. What is it that drives a person into desperate frustration and a sense of whatever they do, it is useless. What is it that is causing a state of exhaustion, so that no energy is left to raise one’s own level of interest?What is it that causes someone with talent and ability to be idle, slothful and indolent ?
To me they all point to an underlying fear of the very feeling of emptiness, that is intrinsic to boredom itself. Boredom is a mental state, sensing the illusonary nature of things and getting very scared of it. There is an inherent anxiety in boredom to give oneself fully, because the fear is, that one may lose oneself into this sense of emptiness, characterizes by a fear of change. So the remedy is distraction and either I am fully engaged in all my wanting and desires to escape the present moment, or I dull my senses and close down, revert to being unreceptive.
So boredom entails both. A fear of change and a fear of truth. Or should we rather say – a fear of truth and based on this, a fear of change arises. Boredom holds us captive, lulls us in and renders us unconscious. It feels so hopeless and dead-ended, that secondary feelings of frustration, depression or laziness arise to protect us from exploring this feeling of emptiness. Frustration pulls us to act out in anger, laziness entices us to lull our senses in false security and depression is a sense of resignation and giving up. They all entail pointers again – pointers to the way out – surrender.
I can fully understand now why existentialists have been fascinated with boredom. It is like the atrium of emptiness – the first sense of what may be there beyond our thinking mind, or what would happen, if all distraction would stop. Boredom is a sense of nothing and it scares the hell out of us. This is why it is related to so many problematic issues of our time – like aggression or addiction. The inner drive to escape boredom is inherent to all of us – it is the creative impulse. However, if this creative impulse is impeded by low levels of skill, confidence or motivation, it will dry up in apathy.
There is no boredom in presence. In this moment I have everything I ever need and neither worry nor expectation can overshadow the flow of life. being bored is a mental state, and it is a true barrier. It is something to be explored in ourselves, because it is intrinsically linked with the illusion about ourselves. Fear of who we are and expectations of who we want to be.
Boredom is a negation of life itself. It is the sense of attachment to samsara and for the mind there is only one way out – distraction. But Truth lies deeper, beyond the sense of boredom and it can be found there.