Recently I wrote about shopping being a panacea for boredom. This I thought called for more musings on boredom.
Is boredom a problem? Not necessarily.
If you are bored just because you have spare time on your hands and don’t know what to do, or are doing the same task over and over again without any variation and have no interest in it, this may signal the need for a change. This is one kind of boredom and recognising it may be helpful because this situation may just offer the chance to plan something new, to contemplate a challenge of some kind.
If we think of boredom not as a negative state but as a space, a refuge where we can find some kind of a respite from the often frenetic pace of our lives, then it may also provide an important opportunity for some mindful, peaceful, attention to our environment. I am not referring to the random thoughts which come unbidden from the brain all the time but mental concentration to notice what is going on around us: scenes of people interacting, insects gathering pollen, birds calling to each other, clouds banking up or moving rapidly across the sky.
On the other hand, if you are waiting for something or someone and have no external stimulation to ease the waiting, it can provide the circumstances to tune into yourself, to retreat into your private world, to better understand yourself.
Boredom is not an insignificant emotional state. It can conceal all sorts of feelings.
In researching this blog story I noticed many websites offering suggestions for avoiding
boredom. Many are sensible suggestions for keeping oneself occupied: going for a run or engaging in some sporting activity, contacting an acquaintance or friend, or identifying and pursuing a passion. All of these are worthy activities but I’m interested in what they are helping the individual to avoid. And then, of course, there are the less worthy activities that fulfil the same purpose – eating for comfort, drinking alcohol, gambling, endless hours in front of a screen. Any of these activities may provide a temporary reprieve but the returning boredom, sense of emptiness, is likely to be even more intense.
What about trying to work out what is under or behind the boredom? What feelings and thoughts are being suppressed or avoided?
Boredom is a way of dodging uncomfortable feelings and experiences that can cause problems and it can be stressful. The reason for this is because so much psychic energy is expended into avoiding memories or feelings that are painful. It is also unproductive and tiring.
However, if one pauses, takes time to notice what surfaces, and resists seeking a distraction, stuff comes up. Stuff that has been buried, perhaps dodged every time it comes to consciousness. What a lot of effort goes into denying what seem like unwelcome thoughts and feelings, such as doubt, sadness, disappointment, shame, embarrassment and guilt. This same effort could more usefully be directed into your own personal growth and enjoyment of living. Our lives, after all, are all too short.
Boredom can also point to underlying and unresolved anger. Frequently this kind of boredom can be tantamount to feeling numb. That is, ‘I don’t want to think’. Because if I think, I might mind-wander towards issues that are unresolved and seem likely to remain unresolved. So the feelings and thoughts about these issues lie dormant, heavy inside, swallowed and not digested. Not shared. These thoughts that are unthinkable, feelings that are suppressed, can then surface at inopportune times – probably after a few drinks, as alcohol is a disinhibitor ie dissolves inhibitions. Someone in this situation might insult others, or hurt their feelings, and then might say, by way of excuse, ‘That was not me. I didn’t say those things.’ But they did. Maybe, even, this could have been you, the part of you with your inhibitions lowered. The usual strategies of concealment, conventional behaviours, social restrictions fail to be effective when intoxication allows the release of authentic feelings.
And the sad thing is, there is nothing wrong with the thoughts and feelings that have been suppressed; they are merely human thoughts, feelings, reactions. We all have them. And it is healthy to share them rather than to bury them. They can then be acknowledged, explored and accepted. This way they lose their power.
Maybe you should start experimenting with intentional introspection, trying to identify what it is that you are trying to avoid thinking about. Slow down, stop, understand what is going on in your own brain and mind. This heightened awareness might spare you from making a fool of yourself, while opening yourself up to a whole new human experience?
Going inward when you say or think you are bored might just enable you to get in touch with largely unexplored aspects of your own human experience. That is easier said than done but may be possible with a trusted friend or, better still, someone who is trained to help you do this.
Is that too scary? If so, why? What is scary about being known to yourself? Or is it just too daunting to do it on your own? These are questions worth asking yourself when you find yourself saying, ‘I’m bored.’