I have never been a fan of boredom. When it has reared its head in my life, I have previously tried to create drama to suppress it. Boredom has always made me feel uncomfortable and I never understood why until I started investigating mindfulness practices and the reasons behind why we humans behave as we do when we feel such feelings. Whenever I have felt ‘bored’ I have always turned to things like food (in the past, junk food or sweet food) to fill up my craving for the desire not to feel bored. I have also turned to sex and getting out of my body when I’ve felt boredom engulf me. I have also used drugs and alcohol to numb the feelings of feeling bored and uninterested in life, and I have even tried to pick fights or create conflict to get attention and spent time around people who reinforce those behaviours. The results of course, have always been catastrophic, and the more worrying thing is that this isn’t who I really am. Our feelings are never who we really are, and yet sometimes we let them take us over when our backs are against the wall, and then berate ourselves when we feel ashamed for behaving in the way we have done.
But what’s so special about boredom?
And why are we so afraid to feel it?
Boredom can creep up on us when we least expect it, but it’s also the emotion or feeling that most of us can be too quick to flick off. This is a real shame as there is tremendous wisdom in the boredom that we feel, but only if we are ready and willing to learn what it’s trying to teach us. You see, boredom is actually a form of anxiety wearing a very deceptive mask. When we feel ‘bored’ it’s not because we’re actually bored or fed-up, it’s actually because there is a huge underlying layer of unprocessed emotional anxiety that needs to be dealt with, but that we’re not willing to feel. If we stop and let ourselves feel the boredom, and feel it move through us, instead of running away from it, we will begin to lean into the anxious feelings and thoughts that are underneath it that are usually trying to tell us something horrible about ourselves.
“You’re not good enough”
“You should be doing more of X”
And it’s always because we don’t want to listen to or challenge those voices that we give into our boredom and seek to numb out the horrible feelings it can bring; lethargy, listlessness, amplification of our inner critic, the need to check-out. The scary thing about boredom though, is that it has such power over our minds that it can lead us into very dark behaviours and cause us to engage with people or situations that we would never normally engage with. I’m sure you know the saying “The devil makes work for idle hands”, well boredom will certainly keep finding work for us to do that doesn’t serve our highest good if we keep choosing to succumb to its callings.
The way we can transform our boredom into a new type of energy, is by allowing its power over us to release, therefore stopping our automatic behaviours. For example, our auto-pilot might be to watch a movie, drink alcohol, put the TV on as soon as we get home, when in actual fact we could totally transform those feelings of boredom by doing the very things we might be resisting.
For instance, often when I think I feel ‘bored’ it’s because I need to meditate or write, or do something creative, or maybe move my body. These take a little more conscious effort than slipping into automatic behaviours, but the effort is worthwhile because otherwise, the boredom will take over. When we’re in the midst of transition and we’ve dropped our usual coping habits around boredom, it can feel completely overwhelming to really feel it and it can be tempting to get lost in the river of thoughts that boredom brings up. We can feel like we’re going crazy wondering how to cope with feeling the edges of this feeling we’re so accustomed to ‘getting rid of’ by spending time around others or chasing away with external things.
If we can learn to face it though, boredom can be our greatest teacher. It’s the teacher who’s asking us to finally sit with ourselves without succumbing to the need to try to change, fix, or control things. It’s the teacher who’s asking us to look at things differently and just ‘be’ with them instead of fighting them. It’s the teacher who’s asking us to take a look in the mirror and ask why, to allow ourselves to feel them, and then to have the courage to allow whatever is underneath them to emerge through.
Underneath our boredom might be panic, anxiety, terror, massive fear, and of course those are scary feelings. Why on earth would we want to sit with and feel those? But ultimately, the longer we put them off, the further we suppress them, the more painful they are going to feel when they are finally unearthed.
So my challenge to you is this; sit with your boredom. Invite it in for a cup of tea. Listen to what wisdom it has for you instead of trying to run away from it with the usual habits that make you feel worse after you’ve engaged in them. If you try and take a different view on this common emotion, you might just be surprised about what it brings up.
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