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News - Final Word
Tuesday, 25 June 2019 09:31
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As a child, there came to me a certain dreaded point in every school holiday. Actually, the word ‘dread’ is an understatement for the feeling that lead to the inevitable question: What can I do next?

Those in the know say that there are different kinds of boredom and that children feel bored because they are not in control of their circumstances. Like trains, they’re shunted back and forth among a variety of activities in different environments. If the shunting stops during the holidays they are suddenly supposed to entertain themselves. The thing is, they keep expecting that something external will take the unpleasant inner feeling of boredom away.

The boredom that children feel are mostly what author Jessica Leber calls the ‘reactant’ kind, which reflects significant restlessness. There are persistent thoughts about specific, “more highly valued alternative situations”.

As adults, boredom is viewed as dangerous because we try to self-medicate our way out of it with ‘fun’ external stimulants. That’s probably why Bertrand Russell said that boredom is a vital problem for the moralist, since half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.

Research has shown that, in a monotonous lab situation where electric shocks were the only available external source of stimulation, participants voluntarily self-administered these shocks to disrupt feeling bored .

But, what exactly is the feeling we so badly want to escape from that we’re willing to hurt ourselves? Leonard Cohen got close to it when he described the difficulty in getting from one second to the next.

Immanuel Kant said that in the absence of a theological horizon, human life appears as a series of inherently meaningless, empty moments that must be unified by purposeful activity. He warned that in its extreme forms each moment is lived as pointless eternity, senseless repetition . . . Sounds familiar?

Okay, girlfriend, just before we start self-administering electrical shocks, I should tell you that I discovered an author named Gustavo Razzetti who wrote something that instantly kicked me in the gut: We feel bored because, deep inside ourselves, we know that we can give more. “Boredom is the pain of unused potential; it’s a disconnection to everything we can offer the world and vice versa.”

Look at it this way: “We crave for more time. However, when we have free time, we don’t know what to do with it. Nothing seems exciting enough to deserve our valuable time. We end up doing nothing and get bored.”

Gustavo writes that boredom is not external; it’s how you engage with the world. It is a mental state you choose so that you can avoid self-reflection. See, in daily life we might not go to the extremes of seeking out electric shocks, but we default to less intrusive antidotes to boredom – the company of others. Most people think of being with others as having fun and associate being alone with getting bored.

Gustavo says that’s also why we embrace busyness. You don’t realize you’re bored when running from one place to another or one task to another. Being busy is a tricky form of entertainment : You don’t feel the boredom, but it isn’t necessarily fun either.

 Friedrich Nietzsche writes that “he who fortifies himself completely against boredom fortifies himself against himself too. He will never drink the most powerful elixir from his own innermost spring.” 

Sakyong Mipham identifies three kinds of boredom. The first has an undercurrent of anxiety. You are not comfortable with yourself. Fun means doing something with someone else and you’re convinced that the cure to boredom is external.

The second kind of boredom is rooted in fear – you are afraid of being alone. Confronting yourself in solitude forces you to hold up an honest mirror and see who you are. The first and second kinds of boredom are driven by a desire for things to be different from the way they are.

The third kind has to do with insight – realising that what really makes us feel bored are our thoughts, not reality itself. It’s when you understand that the world is not boringly predictable; it’s your thoughts about it that are repetitive.

Ultimately, boredom forces you to notice how you connect with the world. And yes, I know, this might not be something you want to see, girlfriend. But, when you do, you’ll be drinking a potent potion from your “own innermost spring”. Bottoms up!