Learning to tolerate a little bit of boredom opens our lives to creative and emotional expansion.
Posted in , Mar 31, 2017
My college friend’s mom had a maxim I’ve never forgotten: “You’re only bored if you’re boring.” I’ve often used those words as a motivation to occupy myself with something entertaining, productive or otherwise engaging.
But lately, with friends’ text messages and a universe of news and entertainment rarely out of arm’s reach and a busy career and family life to manage, I realize boredom is something I no longer experience often, or tolerate very well.
To my own surprise, I realize I’m not entirely okay with that.
So, to walk a positive path through my life means I need to redefine my relationship with boredom.
I’ve always defined boredom as space I don’t know how to fill. That can seem scary, arousing the worry that anxious thoughts or exploding to-do lists will fill that space for me.
What if I let go of that definition of boredom, though? What if instead of seeing boredom as a vacuum, I choose to see it as an invitation? Finding some comfort in the state of boredom—taming the impulse to reach for my phone or pick up a magazine while sitting in a waiting room or watching my son build Legos—means settling peacefully into that space I don’t know how to fill. Dialing down the pressure to be on a constant hunt for creativity and inspiration gives those things the opportunity to find me.
The Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky once said boredom “is your window on time's infinity. Once this window opens, don't try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.”
I love this image of a wide-open window, especially during the energetic early days of spring. It reminds me that boredom can be a fresh, expansive place, an invitation to new ideas, insights, and observations that would have been inaccessible had I continued to focus on being neither bored nor boring.
I am not advocating seeking out boredom, or pulling back from doing, moving, thinking and otherwise engaging robustly and positively in life. My suggestion is simply that the next time boredom finds you, imagine throwing that infinite window open to the invitation that’s just on the other side.