You are bored doing nothing, so you go for a drive. You are bored just driving, so you turn on the radio. You are bored just driving and listening to the radio, so you use your Bluetooth connection to call a friend. After a short call, you return to your swirling thoughts about what you should be doing: repairing the screen at home, answering work emails, using your rowing machine that’s gathering dust.
Then you reflect that it sure would be nice to just have some “down time.” It would be so great to have time, occasionally, to do nothing.
This is a built-in knowing that is wise and worth heeding; a sort of sensory organ that craves peace and quiet, especially when fed a steady diet of fast work, fast food, and fast conversation.
Now imagine yourself in a pleasant, quiet room. No phone, no TV, no computer or other devices are on. Even the window shades are down and only lamps cast soft light.
James Glick, in his best-selling book, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, describes what can happen when you have given yourself this distraction-free environment:
“You are alone with yourself. The neurons in your brain do not stop firing. Your thoughts come through like distant radio signals finding a hole in the static. Maybe they surprise you; maybe they disturb you; maybe they assemble themselves into longer strands—ideas…that might not have formed in the usual multitasking hurly-burly.”
He continues, “Our idea of boredom—ennui, tedium, monotony, lassitude, mental doldrums—has been a modern invention. The word boredom barely existed even a century ago. To bore meant, at first, something another person could do to you, specifically by speaking too long, too rudely, or too irrelevantly.”
Here’s my truth about boredom: it never happens when I’m alone. Ever.
Recently I heard a five-year-old whine to her mom, “I’m bored.” I had a visceral reaction to that. To me, it was appalling. It is inconceivable to imagine my childhood self thinking that or laying that complaint at my mother’s feet like a broken toy I wanted to her fix.
Here’s what I did not have to “relieve boredom” as a child: anything electronic (no tablet, Game Boy, cell phone or computer, and for some years, no TV); more than 5 small toys/dolls; any large toys like a bicycle or pool; a neighborhood (zero other houses in sight, zero neighbor kids to play with); siblings to play with (my brothers are older by 10 and 13 years—I barely remember them living at home); interactive parents (I guess they were too old and over the “involved parenting” years); nor did I have any regular contact with other children (no such thing as kindergarten and I started first grade when I was nearly seven years old). If that sounds to you like a situation where a child would feel lonely, bored, or unhappy, you are wrong. “Bored” was just not in my vocabulary.
I was one of the last of the free-range children and, basically, I was ridiculously creative. Treetops were ship masts to perch on; pine needles and bluejay feathers were for making “jewelry.” And so forth, and so on. Oh…also, this is when I wrote my first book (about a dog’s mischief in a garden), crayon-drew the cover illustration and stapled the pages together.
At some point, I had a swing. Learning how to pump my little legs and swing by myself was my greatest goal. Then, I would swing for long, long stretches of time. THIS is what I wish for you, my friend: long stretches of time when your body is kinesthetically engaged and your mind is free. Free to soar up, up and away as you point your toes to the sky. Free to notice the moment that gravity changes your trajectory, pulling you backwards into a place you are not even seeing with your eyes, only your senses. Where will your mind wander during this back and forth journey? Anywhere it chooses.
Kayaking a lake or creek works well for me today, sometimes with my fishing rod, sometimes with just the simple paddle-water connection.
A distant African culture does not (according to Gleick) have in their vocabulary any words that we Westerners often use, like “wasting time.” Gleick’s research says that many other cultures only “make, wait for, or create” time. Their language content reveals no “using, selling, or wasting” time.
Creativity happens when you allow for it. Don’t just do something…sit there. Have you heard that twist on the “do something!” advice? Well, Sylvia Boorstein used it as the title for her book: Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein. If it appeals to you to have some guidance as you quiet the hustle-bustle and set your mind free, you may want to try mediation or something like she outlines in this book. I love the way she writes what I want to leave you with:
Awaken to the happiness of the uncomplicated moment.
To awaken your creativity, visit Archer Inspired Learning