There is nothing more uniquely human than boredom, it is one of the true miracles of nature. A trait that none of us would have guessed that natural selection would have favoured, and as nature is not there to do it any favours, it gives us only what we need and not what we want, which produces a hard kind of miracle. The human experience did not emerge to entertain us, it is resolute in its determination to fulfil a purpose and that purpose overrides any personal convenience or pleasure. It is on a mission and you are its unwilling adventurer, the hero that will move us closer to both their and our shared destiny, and if you refuse the quest, there is a penalty, you will be condemned to boredom, a state of changelessness where nothing happens, times slows down and you are faced with the feeling of eternity. Like hard kindness and compassion, boredom uses discomfort to make us act for the better.
“If you are bored you are not paying attention,” monks can be so harsh but just because they are annoying does not mean that they are not right. Boredom has been given to us for reason, everything that exists in our experiences is there for a reason, though sadly we do not come with operating manual, we are fortunate to live in a time when human beings have been trying to figure out what that operating manual might have looked like, indeed the last two and a half thousand years of Buddhist tradition has been a massive reverse engineering exercise. They have been studying and examining the only source material that gives us a clue as to what that manual might have said, our own experience of our minds and boredom is the only window into what the original programming might have been.
Of course, no one likes to say that they spent their lifetime studying boredom, so in a case of classic re-branding, they changed the name from boredom to meditation. However you can not fool all the people all of the time, you can call it a spiritual quest but it is still going to look like boredom to some people, they are going to feel resistance because it is deep in our genes to avoid boredom. Boredom is there to motivate you, to prevent you from indulging in laziness and inertia, it is what tells you when you are rested, and that you have the whole of your energy and resources available to you and you are choosing not to do anything with it. It is the thing that releases your potential, like the starting gun of a sprint, it inspires motion and action. Art, writing, craft, even playing comes from a dissatisfaction with doing nothing, when we are faced with boredom we want to create experience, it is the push that gets is out of bed in the morning and works in tandem with the pull of the satisfaction of having achieved. The first makes us feel discomfort for doing nothing and the second rewards for having done something.
And what is the purpose behind this boredom? It is like the sunlight drawing trees to reach upwards, it is there to encourage growth, we are growing beings of consciousness, we are spiritual beings having a human experience and that spiritual being has chosen to plant itself in the soil and mud of what we call a human being. It has cut itself off from its own source, it has chosen solitude, independence and autonomy, so that it may grow back towards the light. We have during our history interpreted this as religion, spiritualism and philosophy, it can be stripped back to merely an instinct for social interaction between human beings that out-competed purely selfish action, and that resulted from natural selection rewarding the winners.
Those who could work together were stronger and more effective, even today we recognise that people working with each other in a conspiracy is so much more dangerous and harmful than individuals working on their own that we make it a more serious crime. We are stronger when we work together for a shared purpose and imagine if that shared purpose was to create a true human family where we are all interconnected, we would be unstoppable and only fear stands in the way of that, and of course national interests, special interests, rent seekers and those who profit from divisions and fear. That wish to keep you feeling powerless, irrelevant, afraid and alone, so that they retain their power and control.
However on the side of love and connection, there is the undeniable human experience of wanting to reach out and feel like you are part of something bigger than you. This seemingly inherent urge to form communities can be seen as coming from an external source such as God or an internal connection to silence and inner self, these are all words that cut you off from the pure experience of being connected to something greater than yourself. And it is accessible to everyone through all the experiences that are available to us not just when we are practising mediation, it is present in everything we do, we can lose ourselves in our work, flow activities, laughter or sorrow, however ironically the more intense the experience and engaged in the moment, the harder it is to give it your full objective awareness. When we are truly engaged with other people, whether that is through casual conversation, sexual desire or anger, the human experience is dominant, we are most ourselves in those situations, or at least the we are most identified with our egos, it is when the ego version of ourselves is fully realised, when we are most an “I”.
It is when we are least able to be detached and observe our reactions and actions of both ourselves and others, we are least able to empathise with others, we are caught up in the sense of what we want and are only able to have our own experience. And being caught up in this melodrama, means we are only able to be subjective and in the moment, these are the times that we look back to, in hindsight and regret, because the subjective view is always limited in comparison to the objective view, it inherently has less information and fewer option. That is why the army teaches leadership detachment, this so you have a greater situational awareness and are able to make objective decisions, not because objectives decisions are always better, there are just more of them.
Boredom is the opposite end of the spectrum, it is where you are the least defined version of yourself, it is why you ask the question what should I do, what do I want to be doing, because when you are not doing, you are not defining yourself by your actions. Is a fire fighter, a fire fighter when they are not fighting fires, they would certainly introduce themselves as one, and because they are one we would give them certain characteristics in our minds of what a good fire fighter would be, we would assume they were brave, noble and interested in our well-being. However is any of this true and does it mean anything about who they truly are, it is something that they do, not who they are.
It only in boredom that we can truly examine what we are, it is only when you take away all the labels that define us, that you can begin to scratch the surface of this question, and the answer does not have words that can define or describe it. That is because the answer is an experience, it is the experience of being you when you take everything else away, and that experience is available to you because of one thing, boredom and making the effort of bringing your awareness to the experience of boredom. And the strange thing is that when you do so, it turns out to be the most amazing experience of your life.