In Favour of Boredom

"A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men… of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase." Wrote the English philosopher and writer Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) in his 1930 essay ‘Boredom and Excitement’. It is often within still moments that seemingly unrelated thoughts click together and new, or forgotten ideas, surface.

Boredom gives room to formulate thoughts that aren’t spoon-fed into you. It gives room to seemingly forgotten things to surface—sometimes silly, sometimes lovely, sometimes entirely painful. It gives room for quite out there ideas to make their way to the forefront of your mind. Boredom can also give rise to an existential crisis or two, as well as aggression and other destructive behaviours; yet these kinds of reactions point towards our unease in the absence of external stimuli.

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To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.

Alan Watts (1915-1973), British philosopher and fount of aphorisms.

Unwilling to accept boredom is like continuing to grab hold of the metaphorical water. Thinking that each kick, each grab, brings you closer to escaping discomfort and all it really does is create more discomfort. Embracing boredom means you don’t scroll through your feed for something, anything to entertain you; it means squashing down the urge to look at every single notification that slides onto your phone’s screen—it might even mean turning off many of your notifications altogether; it means not skipping through every song in your library; it means not texting other people when you’re talking to someone. It means accepting that not every, single moment of your life needs to be riveting to be interesting. 

It means taking the boring bits and accepting the space and the pause they allow you. Just like you can’t force swimming by grabbing hold of the water, you can’t force ideas to happen, or more accurately you can’t force a good idea to happen. Good ideas like to slip up on you, when you’re in the shower, your body going through the same motions it has gone through so many times before, it might seem rather unproductive and yet

…there’s room:

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The pause is especially important for the freedom of being, what I have called essential freedom. For it is in the pause that we experience the context out of which freedom comes. In the pause we wonder, reflect, sense awe, and conceive of eternity. The pause is when we open ourselves for the moment to the concepts of both freedom and destiny.

 Rollo May (1909-1994), American existential psychologist.

So, why don’t you stare out of the window for a bit, look up at the clouds, go for a walk, and just let your thoughts wander.

—written by Julie Smits