Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Gift of Boredom

"New Every Morning"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Almost every day I try to make my way to our local Starbuck’s – it’s a place where I learn an awful lot about people.

Yesterday as I sat in the coffee shop sipping some iced tea, three young college students sat at a table next to me. They all looked pretty glum as one of them announced to the group: “I am so sorry I came home for the summer, I can’t remember a time when I’ve been so bored.” Apparently the others agreed with this assessment and, in fact, they even seemed pretty bored with one another, almost immediately pulling out their smartphones, scrolling and texting and ignoring each other’s presence.

As I observed those extremely “bored” students, it occurred to me that this scene was probably quite emblematic of how lots of folks approach everyday life in today’s popular culture. 

Nowadays, lots of people are bored with the dullness of their routine jobs, or they are bored with school, bored with the people they are with day in and day out. People are bored with their cars or their clothes or bored with their shoes or sick of their old furniture. 

And of course when people find life boring, they will do almost anything to relieve the boredom. Many people are always on the lookout for new jobs or looking to change careers, shopping for new clothes, new furniture, a new car, even a new house.  Some people go to Starbucks with friends and they spend their time browsing the web and sending endless texts because they are bored with where they are or maybe even bored with the people who are sitting at the table with them.

I am reminded of something I read a while back in Lauren Winner’s beautiful book, Still Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. She reflects at how bored she had become with her ordinary routine as she entered the period of her mid-life years and realized that perhaps her boredom was actually a spiritual gift to be embraced not a condition to be avoided:

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

Gradually, a sense of order overtakes the wretchedness of boredom,
and there is a movement toward stillness,
and in the stillness we find God, and in God,
our true identity.

As I reflect on it, the most boring moments of any routine day are indeed invitations for me to stop, to stay, to look and listen and to pay attention to where I am.  I have come to realize that what is often labeled as “boredom” to be avoided, may in fact be an invitation to welcome and embrace the revelations of every “present moment.”

I think that boredom is indeed a “gift” because when we are able to stay with where we are, unplug, sit still, engage in conversations with the people we happen to be with, focus on the task at hand and pay attention to where are feet are planted, we discover the most wonderful things about our lives.

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