Discover yourself in Boredom

Sometimes the best thing that you can do is nothing at all. Yet most of us dread being at a loose end: That space after the completion of a big project or the end of a relationship or just being stuck in traffic or  when there isn't anything good on television.

When we get to the point where we don't have anything pressing to do or we are waiting for someone else, we make a phone call, send a text message, check email or generally fidget around with whatever we can lay our hands on. As Carol Johnson says in her recent article The Joy of Boredom :
"Increasingly, these empty moments are being saturated with productivity, communication, and the digital distractions offered by an ever-expanding array of slick mobile devices." 
The Fear of Boredom and Loneliness

Johnson also points out that the fear of boredom is linked to fear of loneliness and isolation:
"Today, there is a growing fear of the prospect of being untethered in the world without the security blanket of a cellphone. There is this hyper-anxiety over feeling lonely or disconnected," said Kathleen Cumiskey, a professor of psychology a…who says her stepdaughter sleeps with her cellphone at arm's length and considers turning the device off unthinkable. "Our society is perpetually anxious, and a way to alleviate the anxiety is to delve into something that's very within our control, pleasurable, and fun. . . .It feels like it has all the makings of addiction."
This is luckily not the only way of thinking about boredom and loneliness.

The value of Boredom and Loneliness
As Friedrich Nietzsche tells us: "If you stare into the Abyss long enough, the Abyss stares back at you." Or in the famous Zen story  Nan-in tells the Professor that he can't teach him Zen because his mind is too full; that he needs to empty it out before  anything new will go into it.

When we let ourselves experience loneliness and boredom, we come closer to the space from which creativity and contentment emerge. It is out of the disorientation of isolation that new ideas and peace of mind are often born. As Johnson says:
"The most creative people… are known to have the greatest toleration for long periods of uncertainty and boredom… steeping inuninterrupted boredom may be the first step toward feeling connected. It may take a little bit of tolerance of an initial feeling of boredom, to discover a comfort level with not being linked in and engaged and stimulated every second," said Jerome C. Wakefield, a professor of social work at New York University and co-author of "The Loss of Sadness."
"There's a level of knowing yourself, of coming back to baseline, and knowing who you truly are."
'If you think of boredom as the prelude to creativity, and loneliness as the prelude to engagement of the imagination, then they are good things,' said Dr. Edward Hallowell… 'They are doorways to something better, as opposed to something to be abhorred and eradicated immediately.'
In the end the words 'boredom' and 'loneliness' are just negative ways of looking at fundamental parts of human experience.
How to be bored
The trick to benefitting from being bored or lonely is simply to allow it. When you find yourself being bored or lonely or even just scared of being bored and lonely - don't resist it. Just let yourself experience it.

Another way of discovering the gifts of boredom and loneliness is to spend some time doing nothing at all on purpose. Simply set an alarm to mark the time, go and sit on the couch and do nothing at all. No cell phones, no company, no books, no television, nothing.

You could start with as little as 2-3 minutes and stretch it to longer periods as you become more comfortable with it. But be warned, 3 minutes of nothing can feel like an eternity.

Even more importantly, you will start noticing what is going on in your mind and body. And that is where the fun starts! Let me know what you find.


positively present said...

Great ideas here! I feel like we're always trying to escape being bored or lonely but it's important to realize that these emotions are okay. ALL emotions are okay (even though I prefer the positive ones myself!).

Albert@Nextsmallsteps said...

Thanks for the kind words PP. The amazing thing is that when we don't resist these 'negative emotions', we sometimes discover positive emotions behind them!

Anonymous said...

This is a situation I am closely associated with as I have been out of a job for more than two months. Although I am sometimes affected by boredon, I always find ways to keep myelf busy. There are a couple of things I am doing now. One is trying to discover myself and the second one is an activty where I am locating my school classmates on Facebook and Yahoo. I have built up a small art studio in the basement where I indulge in abstract art. I know I am confused and bored, but I am trying to beat that feeling.

Jean Philippe said...

I love the advice because I think I have no problem performing periods of loneliness :)
It feels good to know it is important! Thanks

Albert@Nextsmallsteps said...

But remember that it is the balance between activity and idleness that is the holy grail. If you find yourself enjoying the idleness too much and too often, you may need to work on the activity side of the equation :-)

Albert@Nextsmallsteps said...

@Anonymous Try, for short periods every day, not to fight the boredom and confusion. Go and sit somewhere quiet with no distractions and just let yourself feel the boredom and confusion. Time out 5 or 10 minutes of this and then continue with your normal activities. Maybe make some notes about what comes out of each of these sessions. You may be surprised by what comes up. Hang in there! Albert