Friday, April 15, 2016

Busyness and Boredom

"Beauty in Dry Places"

Yesterday I overhead a rather amusing little exchange between two young men standing in line at the local Starbucks. One turned to the other and asked him how he was doing. “Oh, I’ve been pretty busy lately. How about you?” The other guy responded: “Actually, I’m kinda bored.”  

When I heard that conversation I thought to myself that what those two young men were saying to each other may indeed be rather emblematic of life in today’s popular culture- people are always “insanely busy” or they are “kinda bored,” and to be honest, I think busyness and boredom are actually two sides of the same coin.

I often hear people lament over how bored they are – bored with their jobs, bored with school, bored with the routine of daily chores, bored with the people they see every day, even bored with the people with whom they live.  I regularly notice that a number of advertisements directly try to tap into people’s prevailing dissatisfaction with their same old boring stuff in life, boring old clothes, boring old cars or boring old furniture.

I have come to believe that busyness is the flip side of boredom because, when people feel bored, they get busy doing something about it. Lots of people are always on a job search even if they already have a job, always looking for something more exciting to do, struggling to climb up onto the next rung on the proverbial ladder of success, or perhaps looking for a more interesting course to take, or always shopping for new clothes, new cars, new furniture, or maybe even new people to take the place of all the boring ones.

The Buddha taught that our constant craving for something new and different, bigger and better is a source of our greatest suffering and I find great wisdom in this teaching. When we are always so busy because we are always so bored, we will inevitably find ourselves in a spiritual dead end.

I remember reading something a while back in Laura Winner’s beautiful book, Still Notes on a Mid Faith Crisis:

What we are attempting to escape when we try to flee from our boredom
is only ourselves.
Perhaps boredom is not unlike loneliness;
the best response may not be to run from it but to give ourselves to it,
to see it as an invitation to attend more carefully
to the very things that seem so boring in our lives.

The psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck, observed something very similar when he wrote:

The truth is that our finest moments are likely to occur
when our life seems dry, when we are feeling unhappy or unfulfilled.
For it is only in such moments, prompted by our discontent,
that we are able to step out of our ruts and look for truer answers.

It seems to me that instead of succumbing to the syndrome of always being so insanely busy or so totally bored, we all might simply try to be more “present” to what is. When we are present, available and attentive to wherever we find ourselves in our lives each day, we may be amazed at all the wonderful surprises that come bubbling up.

Trappist monk and author, Thomas Merton, once said:

Finally I am coming to the conclusion in my life
that my highest ambition is to be what I already am.

I think I may also be coming to that very same conclusion.


  1. You know lately after a busy time I noticed a lull, and started wondering what to do next. A course, a new job? I'm so glad I made a conscious choice not to fill the down time though. The space has been there to just notice where I'm at in my life right now. It's not all pleasant, but at least it is 'what I already am' and where I already am and being aware of that is a great springboard for the next moments. Thanks Paul xx