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What is Boredom Really? And Why Not Learn to Enjoy It?


Some states of inactivity - and even paralysis – may be the perfect spaces for inspiration, contemplation, and creativity.

We live in a fast world. It’s always hurried – there’s haste in waking up, in commuting, working, starting and finishing, commuting again, getting home and finally going to sleep. (The next day, we wake up, in a hurry, and we do the same thing again). It’s easy to inadvertently fall into this dynamic, and the speed of the routine doesn’t leave much space for moments of rest, for contemplation, or for silence, and much less for boredom.

Being busy is seemingly synonymous with being successful, though in truth, nothing could be further from the truth. The importance of free time (a topic Theodor Adorno spoke of decades ago), and the importance of allowing ourselves periods of inactivity is so important because they permit us to take a rest from the injurious uses of time which so exhaust us. Knowing how to find beauty and even fertility in boredom (a condition entirely different from depression) is more important today than ever. But what is boredom, really?

Boredom is a construction of our own era. At other times, feelings like apathy and paralysis have been called and defined in entirely different ways. One of the earliest examples comes from the North African Christian communities of the 4th century. Anchorite monks known as the “Desert Fathers,” deeply feared something called acedia,  the “demon of noontide.” It was a feeling characterized by laziness and inertia, and something which kept the monks from their necessary spiritual exercises. For these ascetics, the acedia was a sign of the need for the revival of their spiritual activities, a kind of calling.

Later, especially during the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, feelings of immobility, laziness, and apathy were called by a word a little more familiar to us: melancholy. Naturally, the aristocracy was more prone to the condition; but then, so were artists. It’s a reminder of the deep relationship between the melancholic spirit and artistic creation. Taking things a little further, a brotherhood may actually exist between contemplation (a kind of immobility) and inspiration.

Today’s concept of boredom covers a huge spectrum. It can range from the everyday feeling we perceive when we’re not doing anything (and which often makes us wish we were doing something), to that most existential of tediums, apathy for the world surrounding us and even for our own lives. Despite our displeasure with boredom, there’s an aesthetic power in the state, one that might surprisingly be described as beautiful and even productive.

The simple act of paying attention to boredom (all the while immersed in a vortex of information, noise, and haste) may result in an unanticipated form of meditation, in a state of mystical contemplation of a blank canvas, an appreciation for an emptiness that we may still fill in. That very moment allows us to accept, and perhaps even to appreciate, one of the most basic principles of the universe: stillness is the necessary counterpart to movement.



Image: Creative Commons

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