My entire life I’ve spent avoiding, and then if not successful, escaping boredom. As I reflect on this many years down the track, it seems a completely irrational fear of something I didn’t fully understand. How can you understand something you’ve not embraced and explored? Boredom and me have never had an opportunity to look each other in the eyes, mano a mano, to decide if we like or hate each other?
My fear and avoidance of boredom comes from the multitude of apparently well meaning adults I was surrounded by, while growing up. I don’t think I’m alone in this? I imagine if you paused a little while and reflected on the advice dished out to you as a child, you’ll clearly remember at least this phrase being repeated over and over, at every opportunity boredom may have had to present itself….
An idle mind is the devil’s playground
It must have started early on, because if I’d heard it for the first time as a teenager, I would have rushed in to embrace boredom and stayed for a while. What teenager doesn’t want to dance with the devil a little, and if bored was all you had to be, then you know you were going to go there. By teenagerhood you were already brainwashed. Boredom was something that must be avoided at all costs.
This thinking survives today. A quick search of Google Images quickly confirms this view of ‘boredom’ via these and other similar memes …
Boredom is the Beginning of the Beginning
But what if it isn’t so? What if boredom isn’t the beginning of the end, but the beginning of the beginning? What if boredom is a gateway to incredible worlds inside of your imagination? What if boredom, as a gift for embracing nothingness for a while, gives up creativity?
My thanks to Kathleen Davis for placing this thought into my brain while reading her article in Fast Company exploring the impact of Smartphones in our lives. Somewhere in the middle of her writing, she makes a point about the link between boredom and creativity and the fact that Smartphones (to our detriment) have filled up all the empty space we used to have.
Perhaps the most detrimental effect is that we longer know how to be bored. Boredom is a gift to creative ideas; it’s time when your mind can wander and make new connections. But the easy distraction that smartphones offer kills the empty moments that make life what it is.
Journey to Find Boredom
And so I began a journey to find, embrace and explore boredom. It’s early on in the journey, but as I’ve thought about it, all that boredom is, at it’s simplest, is a space in time where you find yourself with nothing to do. No distractions, no activity, no hope of getting anything done. I smile at this because I know many spiritual people who pay good money to visit Monasteries built into mountains in countries like Bhutan, to spend weeks and months in silence, with no distractions, no activity, no hope of getting anything done. When nothingness is called ‘Meditation’, it’s a spiritual pursuit, but as soon as you call it ‘boredom’ it’s an invitation to the devil.
However, this is not a discussion on semantics, it’s an important conversation we must be having. We know that creativity is the application of knowledge. It’s taking thoughts and transforming them into a different state, a physical state if you like. Into something that takes up space in the physical world we inhabit. Be it as a business idea, or a painting, or a dance, or a new sport, or a fresh campaign.
In order to do this we must create a space for our minds to explore, discover, investigate, play, etc. Our minds need to take a multitude of different thoughts and ideas and put them together to see what might happen if you could successfully do so? And for our minds to begin that pursuit they must be emptied of the noise that fills them in our day to day existence of repetitive and structured behaviour.
Boredom is that kick start. Boredom is the act of emptying our minds. It’s why it’s so painful for us to be bored. Boredom scares us, not because it’s an invitation for the devil, boredom scares us because it’s the beginning of creation, and in creation everything is up for grabs. There’s a well known and quoted quote from Marianne Williamson that I’m certain she must have written having recently come out of a very empty space in her world…
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
The Alternatives to Creation are too Ghastly to Imagine
You didn’t think that great creativity was going to be easy did you? That you’d be walking down the road and a spark of genius that makes Einstein look positively pedestrian, would suddenly pop into your brain. Creation takes work. Hard work. Long hours. To take thoughts and transform them into something tangible and meaningful in the real world is not for the faint hearted. But we must do it. The alternatives are too ghastly to imagine. A world in which creation dies is a world in which we slip into a repetitive existence of 9-5 (or 8-4), Monday to Friday, doing the same tasks every day, over and over again. We wear the same ‘uniform’, conform to the wishes of untouchable and unknowable bosses and masters. We’ll sit in traffic for hours wondering why nobody spends any time finding a solution for our mundane and almost meaningless lives? We’ll train our children in institutions so that they too will one day live a life like we do, where everything seems the same, day in and day out. They too will live for weekends and 15 working days of leave each year, as together we go on leave with our colleagues and cram together onto beaches in similar places, or share dirt roads in the same Parks and climb mountains together, before returning to do it all over again.
If being bored is the beginning then bored I will be. I will embrace it, learn to love it and live there
By the way, all is not lost. On that same Google Images page I referred to above, with memes of warning, I discovered glimpses of what I have written above. People, who out of their boredom have discovered the beginning of the beginning