These days confining ourselves to our homes we are caught in the loop of repetitive nature of our lives, as from the dawning of the first light everyone seems to be in a quagmire as how to get along with the day. As soon as this thought seeps in, time just feels trapped too with the boredom casting us into its shadows. Boredom is as natural as a yawn, it’s a medium of rebooting and it takes us to the epiphanies of wandering down in our ‘mind palaces’. It is the most existential of human emotions, the state of being ‘underwhelmed’.
Nowadays our connection to reality has rather become illusive because of our obsession with the virtual reality and this disconnect distracts us from relishing the wonders of boredom.
Boredom is a kind of ‘temporary’ hollowness of human soul as Leopardi says ‘Boredom is an expression of profound despair of not finding anything that can satisfy the soul’s boundless needs’.
With ‘pandemic’ stretching its net wide people around the world we have been ‘furloughed’ to homes, boredom too has plagued us in this ‘quarantine’ phase as most people feel no way out of this paradoxical emotion ruling roost over our psyche. The experience of this phenomenon has become even more universal and what we are witnessing is the ‘democratisation’ of boredom.
Boredom being a natural state of human beings when they are left to themselves Pascal adds ‘without God humans are doomed to boredom’ ‘all problems derive form man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone’. Immersing ourselves in the world of virtual ‘interface’ we try to stave off our boredom by getting drowned into the ‘dopamine hit’ stimulated from scrolling down the novel and new things whizzing in the virtual spaces.
This distracting and rather illusive conduit has further plunged us into the abyss sans experiencing the wonders of boredom. This pell-mell rush for diversions precisely shows our fear of the emptiness that surrounds us.
We should try to make better of present times as dwelling into our ‘self’ and exploring the myriad beauties of our ‘soul’ to cope with Pascalian ‘inability’ so that we can live quietly in a room alone and make the meaningful odyssey around us. French Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre took Existential boredom as the subject for his novel Nausea as trying to having meaning of life in the times of meaninglessenss
How boredom is a creative pursuit
Alexander Pushkin “great bard” of Russian letters, in 1830 cholera outbreak of Moscow Pushkin, while doing a little social distancing completed verse novel Eugene Onegin and other classic works. Anton Chekhov during Russia’s frequent cholera epidemics (1892 and 1899) created some of world’s best-known short stories, including “The Black Monk.” and “Ward No. 6” living a semi-isolated life at his Melikhovo estate. John Milton famous for his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ about his epiphanies of divine order went blind while curating this opus. Milton wrote ‘Paradise Lost’ when he shifted to his new home at St.Giles to avoid the Great Plague of London (1665–66).
Giovanni Boccaccio’s ‘The Decameron’ undoubtedly one of the greatest piece of literature about pandemic, written mostly in Florentine vernacular rgives us comprehensive account of Florentine plague of 1348.William Shakespeare, one of the greatest writers and dramatists of English language lived mostly during the plagues. He composed King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra during 1605-1606 plague, rather brooding in the quarantine, Shakespeare gave worlds some of the finest literary legacies.
Isaac Newton, The English mathematician and physicist while discovering gravity by writing down the laws of physics is generally considered as prominent face of ‘Age of Enlightenment’. When Cambridge University was shut during 1665 Great London plague, Newton confined himself and conducted experiments.
This year away from his university was later referred as annus mirabilis the ‘year of wonders’ as this was the period where he discovered laws of gravity and principles of optics with wide range of home driven experiments from boring hole in his shutters for positioning a light beam which led him to optics to the famous ‘fall of apple’ which he observed through his window at Woolsthorpe.
The Roman Emperor Marcelius Aurelius Antoninus, the famous Stoic Philosopher of late antiquity faced worst of plagues during his life and one of them was named after him ‘Antoine Plague’ estimated to have killed up to 5 million people possibly Marcelius himself . It’s during this time he wrote a famous philosophical treatise ‘Meditations’a philosophical and practical guide of coping with the challenges of loss, anxiety pain etc. While readingMeditations, it turns out to be the manual for developing mental resilience in the times of pandemic.
Boredom and mindfulness
Bertrand Russell writes in ‘Conquest of Happiness’ ‘Boredom as a factor in human behavior has received, in my opinion, far less attention than it deserves. It has been I believe, one of the great motive powers throughout the historical epoch, and it is so at the present day more than ever.’
Immersing in our personal narratives boredom discovers in us the cognitive phenomenon called autobiographical planning, a neuro-scientific concept which deals with the fact as how our minds fare when daydreaming. Staring at the ceiling, aimlessly, conversing with ourselves. This imagining of our personhood during the boring ticks open up new vistas of reorienting our lives and visualizing ourselves in new situations and adapting to the morass we feel.
Marcus Raichle, a distinguished neurologist at Washington University discovered that during boredom strikes our brains go into the default mode-a neural network system where our problem solving and original ideas ignite. Svendsen elegantly outlines, and then dismisses, Heidegger's dense and some might say boring thesis on boredom, which is not easily condensed into brief summary. But here goes.
In the normal run of events, time kills us; in boredom, we kill time. Heidegger, the German philosopher using introspective phenomenology believed on, what he termed "profound boredom" was a radical means of accessing the essence of being. ThíchNhấtHạnh in his 1975 book Miracles of Mindfulness recommends using word ‘meditation’ at the end of all boring activities.
Robert M. Pirsig explores in his ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ the link between Zen Buddhism and boredom and tries to discover the embedded meanings in the bouts of boredom his what is at the centre of boredom we are not seeing.
So let’s embrace boredom as a guide to mindfulness, rediscovering of self, awakening of our existential realities and overtures to creative adventures. Keep yourself bored. !
Author is a Researcher, University of Kashmir