By: Clari Mastronardi
“Against boredom even gods struggle in vain.”- Friedrich Nietzche
Two weeks ago, for the first time in years, I got bored. I was living in a hotel room in forced quarantine by the Argentine government and was struggling with tremendous jet lag due to a 40-hour flight from Indonesia to Buenos Aires. I was waking up at 5 am unable to go back to bed and unable to go anywhere else other than the bathroom. My morning routine was reduced to waking up, sitting down to meditate beside my bed, heating water for a coffee, and writing in my journal while sitting at the one desk in the room. All in a 10 mt2 room. If I was feeling active I would do a workout and by 7:30 or 8 am I was done.
I had to work and study, yes. My phone, laptop, and my textbooks became my Wilson in my own castaway experience. I held on to them throughout the whole hotel adventure, and they didn’t disappoint me. But I got to a point where I needed to occupy my mind with something else, something different. I needed to be away from any screen or any textbook; basically, I needed to stop being productive. And when I decided to put it into practice, something magical happened: I got bored.
I remember sitting in front of that desk, staring at my journal, asking myself, what should I do now? But then the better question arose: what do I want to do now? I lay down in my bed with that question floating for a while in my head, simply….thinking. And then another beautiful thing happened: my mind started to wander. I went over the whole journey to get home in my head- from the moment I made the decision to leave Bali, the 3 flights, the layovers, getting home, the temperature checks, the ride to the hotel, the city in lockdown. I saw it clearly and suddenly I felt an urge to write it. The whole odyssey had been so surreal, that I wanted to remember it, bit by bit. The travels, the emotions, the stress, the thoughts. And a few hours later, I had written several pages about my journey that would allow me to treasure it.
So it got me thinking about the concept of boredom and to my surprise, it is a topic vastly studied both by philosophers and scientists worldwide. All the way from the writings in medieval times to contemporary neuroscience, there’s a lot written about its origins, significance and how our brains respond to it. There is a lot to be said about its negative aspects and its connection with a lack of excitement, engagement, stimuli, satisfaction and an overall sense of unhappiness. But what happened to me when I got bored and mind wandered for a long period of time, reflecting on my journey, was far from negative. Indeed, it was quite fulfilling. So another question came up: is there a bright side to boredom?
Mind-wandering is the default mode of our brains. By design, our mind goes to the future or the past, and we spend almost 50 % of our awake time anywhere else but in the present moment. That’s when mindfulness and meditation come in handy, to help us center in the present and cheat that network of the brain responsible for our attention being scattered all over the place (at least for a bit. In the long run, it has been proven that meditation has the ability to change that network). But what happens when we choose to simply wander…mindfully? When we have nothing else to do and we actively decide to let our imagination, thoughts, and words loose? How far can we go?
Boredom gives us the opportunity to look deeper into ourselves, our current state. It gives us a blank canvas of ourselves for reflection. In his “The Wanderer and His Shadow”, Friedrich Nietzsche, said that a person who blocks all boredom from his or her life also blocks access to his or her deepest self and the water that flows from its fountain. For Heidegger, “boredom is a privileged fundamental mood because it leads us directly into the very complex problem of being and time” (Svendsen, L. 2005. A Philosophy of Boredom, John Irons trans. London: Reaktion Books.). Simply put, what these philosophers were telling us is that boredom gives us the chance to ask ourselves some big questions.
Moments of stillness and boredom are the times to plant seeds for how we want to use our time moving forward. In times of uncertainty, we can choose to see boredom as the enemy, as an instigator of fear and anxiety. Or we can choose to use it to our favor.
No matter where you find yourself right now or how your life looks, there is an opportunity in boredom. Problems tend to scream. Opportunities to whisper.
Let boredom whisper to you.