Featured Articles

Can you let yourself be bored?

Boredom is essential to Buddhist practice. When our minds aren’t occupied with something else – planning or playing games or talking or buying – we have the space to see our thoughts. What do you think about when you have nothing to think about? And what does that say to you?

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche differentiated between at least two kinds of boredom – hot boredom, the restless jittery I-can’t-sit-still-another-minute kind, and cold boredom, the zoning out kind. Both indicate our mind's desperation to escape the present moment.

We don’t like to be bored, of course. We like to be entertained. We carry smartphones and personal games systems so that we never have to be without something to occupy our minds. Or books -- some of us still carry books.

In this excellent essay, Scott Adams argues that boredom also is essential to creativity.

I make my living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood.

Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, also credits his time in corporate meetings, “which felt like a play date with coma patients.”

Now let's suppose that the people who are leaders and innovators around the world are experiencing a similar lack of boredom. I think it's fair to say they are. What change would you expect to see in a world that has declining levels of boredom and therefore declining creativity?.

In that world, he says, people would be more dogmatic, adopting positions laid out for them rather than thinking things through themselves. Movies would be derivative or sequels; TV would show more “reality” shows. The economy would “flat-line for lack of industry-changing innovation,” and the news would sound repetitive. People would have difficulty understanding new ideas.

You might find that bloggers are spending most of their energy writing about other bloggers. Uh, touché.

You know how sometimes a theme emerges in your life, and everywhere you look, something wakes you up to an aspect of your life? Here’s a sample of what I’ve discussed/highlighted/shared in the past week of my personal life:

"Dunbar was lying motionless on his back again with his eyes staring up at the ceiling like a doll's. He was working hard at increasing his life span. He did it by cultivating boredom. Dunbar was working so hard at increasing his lifespan that Yossarian thought he was dead." Joseph Heller, Catch 22.

“We would like apple juice, orange juice, cottage cheese, ice water – anything to avoid boredom. Through shamata, we discover that we do not need to jump to conclusions or act purely out of impulse. All those impulses are canceled out by the process of mental discipline”. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, “The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation.”

"The mind that needs to be entertained hunts for modes of engagement that sedate it, rendering it dull and numb. And once we're tranquilized this way, our reality becomes little more than a giant cocoon of ambient experience." Ethan Nichtern, One City

I’m talking to a friend about how busy we are. She notes that when free time does appear, it’s hard to shift into neutral and just idle. I agree, saying it’s been hard to find time to read. She gently points out that reading is doing something. Ahhh-ha!

On the other side, we have Fritz Perls the inventor of Gestalt Therapy, who said, “If you are bored, you are not paying attention.” But what are you paying attention to?

Next time you find yourself casting about for something to pass the time, see if you can let that impulse go and just be in the moment. What is happening within you and without you, right now? What attracts your attention or makes you want to turn away? What are you not seeing?

Vote for this article to appear in the Recommended list.



thank you.

On Being Bored


I read this a long time ago and it's stuck. For what it's worth, here's the psychological angle (almost two decades old):

“On Being Bored” in: On Kissing Tickling and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life (Adam Phillips; 1993)

[..] Every adult remembers, among many other things, the great ennui of childhood, and every child's life is punctuated by spells of boredom: that state of suspended anticipation in which things are started and nothing begins, the mood of diffuse restlessness which contains that most absurd and paradoxical wish, the wish for a desire.

As psychoanalysis has brought to our attention the passionate intensity of the child's internal world, it has tended to equate significance with intensity and so has rarely found a place, in theory, for all those less vehement, vaguer, often more subtle feelings and moods that much of our lives consist of. It is part of Winnicott's contribution to have alerted us to the importance, in childhood, of states of relative quiescence, of moods that could never figure, for example, in Melanie Klein's gothic melodrama of emotional development. [..] But moods, of course, are points of view.

[..] In any discussion of waiting, at least in relation to the child, it makes sense to speak of boredom because the bored child is waiting, unconsciously, for an experience of anticipation. [..] That boredom is actually a precarious process in which the child is, as it were, both waiting for something and looking for something, in which hope is being secretly negotiated; and in this sense boredom is akin to free-floating attention. In the muffled, sometimes irritable confusion of boredom the child is reaching to a recurrent sense of emptiness out of which his real desire can crystallize. But to begin with, of course, the child needs the adult to hold, and hold to, the experience - That is, to recognize it as such, rather than to sabotage it by distraction. [..]

Experiencing a frustrating pause in his usually mobile attention and absorption, the bored child quickly becomes preoccupied by his lack of preoccupation. Not exactly waiting for someone else, he is, as it were, waiting for himself. Neither hopeless nor expectant, neither intent nor resigned, the child is in a dull helplessness of possibility and dismay. [..] How often, in fact, the child's boredom is met by that most perplexing form of disapproval, the adult's wish to distract him - as though the adults have decided that the child's life must be, or be seen to be, endlessly interesting. [..] Boredom is integral to the process of taking one's time.While the child's boredom is often recognized as an incapacity, it is usually denied as an opportunity.


"Inability to tolerate empty space limits the amount of space available."

Wilfred Ruprecht Bion, Cogitations, 1992


[..] So perhaps boredom is merely the mourning of everyday life? [..] But the child's boredom is a mood that seems to negate the possibility of explanation. It is itself unexplaining, inarticulate; certainly not pathological but nevertheless somehow unacceptable. [..] what the bored child experiences himself as losing is "something to do" at the moment in which nothing is inviting. [..]

Clearly, for the bored child nothing is "available for the purpose of self-expression." Instead of "expectancy and stillness" there is a dreary agitation; instead of "self-confidence and ... free bodily movement" there is cramped restlessness. [..] The bored child, a sprawl of absent possibilities, is looking for something to hold his attention. [..] For the child to be allowed to have what Winnicott calls "the full course of the experience" the child needs to use of an environment that will suggest things without imposing them; not preempt the actuality of the child's desire by force-feeding, not distract the child by forcing the spatula into his mouth. [..]


Site developed by the IDP and Genalo Designs.