There is No Boredom in the Present Moment

Heavenly Boredom

Boredom is one of my bugaboos. I was definitely one of those kids who whined a lot about how there’s “nothing to do,” and who had a comeback for every suggestion to go play outside (“but I already climbed that redwood tree”), go over to Suzie’s house (“but she’s so boring”), or hey, why don’t you do some chores (“oh, I’m busy meditating!”)?

I know that boredom is at the root of why I engage in busy work to avoid my sitting practice, or to procrastinate a difficult task. It’s what’s happening when I start writing a shopping list in my head during meditation, or fidget with my fingers, or think, “If only I burned some incense, then I could really focus here!”

In today’s society we’re used to being constantly stimulated. Our minds crave novelty and excitement, and technology has only increased that hunger. When faced with the idea of paying attention to our breath for 15—or even 5—minutes, many of us resist. In fact, we expend a great deal of money and time trying to avoid being bored.

We think boredom is caused by our circumstances. We think the situation we find ourselves in is simply not interesting. The mindfulness traditions, on the other hand, regard boredom as the product of inattention. In other words, we get bored when we withdraw our full awareness from whatever it is we are experiencing at the moment.

Boredom

When asked by one of my meditation teachers during practice what I was noticing in the present moment, I said, “Boredom.” To which she swiftly replied: “There is no boredom in the present moment.” It was one of those moments when I wanted to get up and bitch-slap my teacher. “I don’t know what present moment you’re experiencing, but I’m BORED!” I thought.

I had to chew on that one a lot, practicing taking the stance of the witness: here I am meditating, noticing boredom, aware that my attention is wandering, coming back to the breath… It’s taken me awhile to realize that boredom isn’t caused by our external circumstances but by our own mind, and that the antidote to boredom is paying complete attention. Rather than paying attention, though, most of us are inclined to continually seek out new mental stimulants to keep our minds occupied with trivialities.

The practice of mindfulness encourages us to relinquish the craving for stimulation and simply be attentive to what is. Boredom itself can be interesting if you simply observe it patiently without judgment.

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