The Wonders of Boredom

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’ and ‘overwhelmed’ at the same time. When pandemic stretched its net wide as people around the world  had been ‘furloughed’ to homes, boredom plagued us in this quarantine phase, as most people felt no way out of this paradoxical emotion. The experience of this phenomenon has become even more universal and what we are witnessing is the democratisation 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’.

Boredom is a natural state of human beings when they are left to themselves as Pascal contemplates ‘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. The pell-mell rush for diversions coupled with our obsession with the virtual reality precisely shows our fear of the emptiness that surrounds us. We should try to make better use 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 enjoying in the Csikszentmihalyi’an flow in our lives.

How Boredom is a Creative Pursuit

The times of Quarantine boredom have been the golden epoch in the literature and naturals sciences as some of the best ideas and literary works sprang up in this period. Isaac Newton, the English mathematician and physicist 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 leading him to optics to the famous ‘fall of apple’ which he observed through his window at Woolsthorpe. 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 world some of the finest literary legacies. 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 gives us comprehensive account of Florentine plague of 1348. Alexander Pushkin “great bard” of Russian letters, in 1830 cholera outbreak of Moscow while doing a little social distancing completed verse novel Eugene Onegin and other classic works.

The Roman Emperor Marcus 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 Aurelius 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 reading Meditations, it turns out to be the manual for developing mental resilience in the times of pandemic.

Boredom and Mindfulness

Bertrand Russell while attempting to map the  causes of unhappiness in modern life  wrote in Conquest of Happiness, “Boredom as a factor in human behaviour 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”. Plunging into 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. Marcus Raichle, a distinguished neurologist at Washington University discovered that during boredom our brains go into the default mode-a neural network system where our problem solving and original ideas ignite. This imagining of our personhood during the ‘boring flashes’ open up new vistas of reorienting our lives and visualizing ourselves in new situations and adapting to the morass we are stuck in. Heidegger, the German philosopher using introspective phenomenology believed on, what he termed “profound boredom” as a radical means of accessing the essence of being .Eastern philosophy  parallels boredom to the meditative plane as Thích Nhất Hạnh 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 aiming to discover the embedded meanings in the bouts of boredom and its imperceptible addition of meaning in our lives.

Boredom as Wellspring of Pleasurable Existence

Humans cannot escape boredom and often find themselves in this cycle of emotional vicissitudes while Nietzsche taking the sway of boredom further beyond humans wrote Against boredom even gods struggle in vain”. Camus while recognising the importance of boredom regarded it as wellspring of a sane and pleasurable existence. 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 for unfolding and refolding the coordinates of our existence in this Baummainian ‘fluid society’ where meanings evaporate and artificialities solidify..!