By Shivi Verma
If not handled properly, boredom can escalate into a spectrum of negative emotions, but if addressed correctly can open new doors, says Shivi Verma
My father always accused me of getting bored easily and quickly.
This was true. Nothing held my interest for too long. I would start a project with great fanfare, but it would inevitably fizzle out in the middle. I envied people who could chase a target with commitment, seriousness and unflinching dedication. Whereas I was constantly looking for that one thing which could ignite my passion, and keep me hooked endlessly. My problem got mitigated when spirituality happened to me. I had found something which ignited my passion. It made even the mundane interesting, since each moment now became a new and learning moment. I realised that boredom was a sign of stuck growth. Yet there came a time when boredom attacked me again, with nothing coming to my rescue. As ennui descended and made me listless, I was compelled to explore this phenomena.
What is boredom?
There are two main categories of boredom. Existential boredom, which has to do with not having a purpose to life, and common or garden boredom, which is a more superficial phenomenon and can afflict any of us any time. The chief distinction between the two is that existential boredom is a state of mind that continues indefinitely, while the other form of boredom is more fleeting, and much easier to resolve.
This kind of boredom usually grips those who are searching for meaning and purpose in life. Life, as they know it, does not suffice for them. The usual pursuit of money, wealth, fame or power does not entice them, and they cannot find anything else to take its place. They are in search of their soul call. Most seekers, healers and masters fall into this category.
Says Osho, “Boredom simply means that you are an intelligent human being. Only humans get bored. Boredom simply shows that you are becoming aware of the futility of life, its constant repetitive wheel. Boredom is the first indication that a great understanding is arising in you about the futility, meaninglessness, of life and its ways. A man becomes human when he starts feeling bored. The most intelligent child will be the most bored child – because nothing can keep his interest for long.”
Says the Mumbai-based founder of Sky Healing, Santosh Joshi, “Boredom means lack of direction in life. We may be well paid in our work, but can still feel bored because it is not what we want to do in the first place. Boredom may be an indicator of doing something you were not born to do.”
He adds, “Boredom is the beginning of a downward negative spiral. It progresses into depression, powerlessness and a feeling of victimhood. Boredom leads to pessimism and self-doubt and eventually anger. We blame others and feel unworthy. The solution is to discover what fuels our passion and go after it.”
This kind of boredom also afflicts affluent societies which have moved beyond survival levels. “Boredom is apparently the scourge of self-satisfied society that has reached a certain level of financial independence. We no longer have to spend most of our waking hours struggling for survival. But in societies such as America, where plentifulness abounds, endless rounds of pursuing hobbies, interests, passions, addictions, goals, plans and a whole lot of couch-potatoing often lead to periods of boredom and angst,” says a blogpost called Heartspace.
“Material gratification has a saturation point. Beyond that it is sickening. There is a void inside you and that void begins to consume you unless you do something to find the meaning and purpose of your life,” says Guruji Naushir, a disciple of Mahavtar Babaji.
All of us are familiar with this kind of boredom. We get bored with people, relationships, with sameness, by the need to practice something to perfect it, with routine, and the stasis of life. This form of boredom is independent of existential boredom, and can grip you even after you have realised your purpose in life.
Says Dr Dayal Mirchandani, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist, “Humans have a need for novelty, change and activity. Doing the same thing everyday can make you feel bored. In the modern world people are used to instant gratification, so tolerance for boredom is much less than before. Earlier, we didn’t have too many gadgets to keep us occupied. When life lacks meaning, you feel bored and resort to mindless activities like texting, or watching porn.”
Om Swami, a monk and author of If Truth Be Told, offers a contrarian view, “Personally, I believe there is nothing wrong in feeling bored. If boredom was such a bane, we would still be in the stone age. Somewhere in our evolution and growth, boredom played a significant role. Some of the greatest inventions did not just take place out of necessity but because someone was bored, they wanted something new.”
There is only one solution to existential boredom and that is when a person finds his life purpose.
Santosh Joshi was in a well-paying job with an MNC, chasing targets and jet-setting around the world, but still felt like a misfit. “Nothing could keep me motivated for long. I was getting bored. This boredom gave me an opportunity to look deeper and inwards. That is when I realised that I was in the wrong profession, and needing to do what gave me inner satisfaction. I chucked that job and started on the path of spiritual healing, which was my inner call.”
Boredom also happens when one plays it too safe. This too is existential in nature. When I first came to Mumbai I was overwhelmed by its immensity, and preferred to stay at home. The idea of taking up a job would fill me with dread and helplessness. I would try to be creative within the confines of my home, but it used to be a struggle. This conflict ended only when I accepted the challenge of doing a regular job, and mentally readied myself to brace up the challenge.
To that extent, boredom can spur you towards growth. Agrees Dr Dayal Mirchandani, “Boredom is not so bad as people think. There are times when people need time off. A time to reflect, ponder and do something new and creative instead of the same old thing. It depends on what is making you feel bored. If it is something which is good for you in the long run, then all you need to do is persevere. If it is the sameness that disinterests you, makes you unhappy, then it calls for some introspection and commensurate measure to invite freshness in life.”
If aloneness or lack of engagement is making you feel bored, then learning a new thing can dispel it. Tanushree Agarwal began to feel bored on relocating to USA after her marriage, since she would be alone when her husband left for work every day. To overcome this, she enrolled for an online class on arts and crafts and began decorating her home with self-made things.
All too often, we get bored of goals, projects or even relationships because we lack the commitment to persist when blocks or difficulties show up. At such times it pays to persist.
Mike Berghan, director of Te Aro, Ashtang yoga studio, in Wellington, New Zealand, started to feel bored with the monotony of performing the same pose day after day. He says, “Eventually, like everyone else in this practice, I reached a block. At first it seemed that things ground to a halt because I was no longer learning new asanas. But then I realised that a whole new level of learning was opening up to me. I started to appreciate the deeper understanding of the practice that flowers with repeated action. Every day there are subtle differences and in these differences there is huge learning. I learnt that my body and my mind thrive on routine once I understand that inside that routine is endless variation and endless learning.”
“Even the attempt to meditate can bore you. So try and meditate on boredom itself,” quips Dr Mirchandani.
Om Swami shares a small anecdote.
Committed to the practice of meditation but not getting anywhere, a disciple approached his master and said, “I’m feeling really bored and restless. I’m unable to meditate.”
“Don’t worry, don’t react. It’ll pass. Don’t lose your resolve. Stay the course,” the guru said.
Another few weeks later he sounded really excited and said, “Oh, I’m having the greatest time of my life. Meditation has never been so good.”
“Don’t get high, don’t react. It’ll pass too. Don’t lose sight of your path. Stay the course,” replied the guru.
“Clearly, this is true not just for meditation but many other aspects too. People get bored in relationships, in jobs, in their lives and so on. The first thing you need to know about boredom is that it is cyclical and it is temporary. When you get bored of something you cannot escape, practice acceptance and alertness with resolve and you will get over the boredom in no time,” he says.
If it’s the company of your friends which is boring you, perhaps you have evolved from your previous level and your friends are unaware of your inner shift. No need to kick yourself for this. Just look out for those with whom you resonate.
If you are bored in a relationship you are committed to, such as marriage, work on the marriage and yourself, instead of looking elsewhere. Practise acceptance of the relationship, instead of resenting it. Look for the merits in your partner, and appreciate them. This would energise them and make them happy, making you happier in return.
Boredom also arises when there is hierarchy, lack of communication, and when we take the partner for granted. Go to a marriage counselor, and take steps for self-improvement. Married couples fall prey to boredom when they stop growing in their relationship. In such cases moving beyond personal gratification and advancing together on a higher path can refresh the bond.
Manjari Patankar, a doctor based in Thane, and her husband Shailesh Puranik, a businessman, began moving towards spirituality, after achieving success in their professional lives. This not only strengthened their love and commitment to each other but also infused their lives with deep spiritual satisfaction.
Says Manjari, “We had achieved everything professionally and were a happy couple, but we were constantly looking to better our lives. Then we got introduced to spirituality in the form of chakra meditation, kriya yoga, and eventually met our guru. We realised that we were spiritual soulmates as well. We are more one than before as we move together to fulfil our higher purpose.”
In other words, the solution to boredom lies in our own hands, never in that of the outside world.
Says Badal Suchak, a sculptor and artist based in Mumbai, “People who are unable to accept the present situation feel bored as they are seeking what is not. Peaceful coexistence with the present moment nourishes the soul, and frees it of boredom since there is so much to learn in the now. On rare occasions when I sense boredom, if the external circumstances are not conducive to peace and if I have a choice, I gently move away. Otherwise I just accept the noise! It is choiceless awareness.”
I agree with Badal, wholeheartedly. Even though I felt that I had transcended boredom, it ensnared me again recently. The weather looked gloomy with gray clouds overcasting the blue skies. Rains were spoiling outdoor plans, and routine was sapping life from my weary body. And then boredom fell upon me like a thick fog. Unable to do much I began to observe my boredom. It went deep and brought to the surface my expectations from life, myself and others. With things not moving my way and my inability to change the situation, I realised that boredom too was a product of the mind and its desire to be amused all the time. If I fought or resisted it, it would spiral down and create more unhappiness for me. But if I observed it and let it run its course it would leave after its time. Soon the wheel of time turned, and boredom drifted away like the clouds that hide the shining sun.
So the next time boredom visits you, just chill. It is either bringing you close to your true purpose, or just making you realise that your true self is bigger than any negative emotion.
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