As It Is ~ BOREDOM
DAY has just gone, for the fourth year since it was
started, and for the third time, a group of friends
and I volunteered to participate in it.
It was raining when I got up at my usual
early hour, with more showers forecast for later.
The day dawned gray and overcast, and I thought few
of the volunteers would turn up, but around the agreed
upon time, they began to arrive. Among the first to
come was a couple in their seventies, and later came
a group of teenagers; so we were a mixed bunch.
When all who were expected had assembled,
with no absentees, we dared the sullen sky, and set
off to the park where we had been assigned to work.
We were met by someone in charge of operations, who
showed us where our energies could be most usefully
expended: along the road that ran beside the park.
We split up into two groups, and began at the extremities
of the park, working back towards each other, to meet
in the middle.
Not surprisingly, the roadside was littered
with garbage that had been flung, for the most part,
from passing cars: soft drink cans, beer cans, bottles,
junk food wrappers, plastic bags, cigarette packets,
etc. We had been issued sacks, and the man in charge
came by in his car every twenty minutes or so to pick
up the full sacks and give us replacements. Now and
then, people beeped and waved as they drove past,
in obvious approval of what we were doing.
One boy of about 16, however, who had been
press-ganged by his father into coming along, complained
several times of how boring it was to pick up garbage,
as if he'd been doing it for the past ten years or
more without a break, instead of just that morning
for the very first time. I told him that it ? and
anything else, for that matter would be boring if
he set out with the idea that it would be, or expected
it to be, but if he hadn't first made up his mind
about it, and had understood what was the purpose
of picking up garbage, then, far from being bored,
he might even enjoy it; all the other people did,
and their hands were just as much in contact with
the garbage as his were, and they got just as tired
as he did. Or did they? On second thoughts, they probably
didn’t, as they were working with joy, while
he was working begrudgingly. If we work with joy,
we are able to work longer and more efficiently, and
we don't become so tired.
Now, I would like to digress a little here,
to explain that for the past few months, I have been
a guest in someone's house, and have tried to help
out somewhat by doing various light jobs around the
place such as mowing the lawn and weeding the garden.
Outside the front fence, beside the road, there is
a strip of grass that each house owner is supposed
to keep mown. The strip outside our house runs, unbroken,
outside the house of the neighbors on our right, and
so, when mowing our part, I also mow the neighbors'
part if it hasn't already been done. Noticing this,
someone asked me if the neighbors ever acknowledged
this or thanked me, and when I said no, and that I
hadn't even met the neighbors, and wouldn't know them
if I met them face-to-face on the street, he seemed
surprised that I should do it. So I told him that
we don't always do things for what we might get in
return, but simply because they are there to be done,
and not to do them would be to display petty mindedness.
In this case, it is immaterial if the neighbors do
not reciprocate by cutting our strip while they are
cutting theirs; the neighbors are the neighbors, and
we are we.
So, picking up garbage was merely an opportunity
of doing something ? putting something in ? without
thinking of getting anything in return. Of course,
there is a result ? immediately: a feeling of satisfaction
at having participated in a positive activity for
the community, though this is not the reason for doing
it; seeing how things are, and taking the opportunity
by the hand, we respond, that's all. Hundreds-of-thousands
of other people nationwide responded in a similar
Now, as to boredom ? which is the main point
of this article ? is it not self-created? And is it
not a form of suffering? And are we not, therefore,
stupid? Picking up garbage for a couple of hours is
not boring, as the young boy claimed, but, on the
contrary, it was he who was dull and small minded,
focussing just on himself in isolation, and not understanding
? or ignoring ? why he was doing what he was doing.
Where did he get his concept of boredom from? What
standard was he going by? Was it his own, born from
his experience and observation, or was it, like the
fashions that people follow, merely adopted wholesale
If we set out on an enterprise ? any enterprise
? with minds already made up about what is going to
happen, we restrict ourselves, and block off many
possibilities. We should give ourselves a break, and
try to be open to the unexpected, instead of sticking
rigidly to plans and ideas, for no two days ? or two
anything, in fact ? are the same, and we cannot possibly
imagine what's going to happen in the day that lies
before us when we wake up in the morning. If we were
to treat life as the adventure that it is, instead
of trying to plan everything, it would be much more
interesting and exciting, and we would have little
reason to complain about being bored. I'm not implying
that we should live completely without plans, but
that whatever plans we have should be held with a
degree of flexibility, so that if they don't work
out, or if something else comes along to change them,
we won't feel so bad about it and might even welcome
it; things often work out better when we don't plan
them; they have an element of serendipity about them.
It is important that parents expose their
children in their early years to a certain amount
of monotony, instead of trying to keep them constantly
entertained or amused, in order for them to become
familiar with something that, later on in their lives,
they will certainly encounter plenty of. If children
are deprived of opportunities to confront and deal
with monotony, they might never develop the ability
to do so, for many of our 'survival skills' are acquired
during these formative years, rather than afterwards.
Overly fond and protective parents actually do their
children a disservice by providing too much entertainment,
and thereby enhance the propensity in their children
to depend upon things outside of themselves for their
enjoyment and happiness.
I have long said that it would be infinitely
better to listen more to ourselves than we do, and
depend less upon others to teach us, for there are
many things which we know naturally, it seems, many
things hidden deep in the mind, which, if they are
not smothered by so much education, might emerge to
stand us in good stead. Lyall Watson, in his book
GIFTS OF UNKNOWN THINGS, says "I wish there were
some way of reconciling formal education and natural
knowing. Our inability to do this is a terrible waste
of one of our most valuable resources. There is a
fund of knowledge, a different kind of information,
common to all people everywhere. It is embodied in
folklore and superstition, in mythology and old wives'
tales. It has been allowed to persist simply because
it is seldom taken seriously and has never been seen
to be a threat to organized science or religion. It
is a threat, because inherent in the natural way of
knowing is a sense of rightness that in this time
of transition and indecision could serve us very well."
Several times, when I have presented things
in a simple, broad, un-dogmatic and non-sectarian
way, someone has said, "Is that what it's all
about? But I've known that for years already! It's
so clear!" Yes, that's just it; there's nothing
arcane or mysterious to be learned or mastered; all
we must do is return to ourselves, and discover what
we've got and have had all along. But we are looking
in the wrong direction, ever outward from ourselves,
instead of inwards. Is it the 'common sense' that
we've heard about all our lives? This term is just
one of many that most people have never thought about,
and assume that it means something 'ordinary' and
commonplace, whereas in fact, it means something that
we have in common, like the string that runs through
a necklace of beads; we all have it, but few of us
are aware of it and in this sense, it is rare rather
With herd mentality, we adopt, unquestioningly,
the standards of others only because we are unsure
of ourselves and lack self-confidence. As we become
more sure of ourselves, we begin to let go of external
supports and go our own way. This sometimes leads
to eccentricity, of course, but in my book that is
not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn't
disturb or hurt others; I am more concerned about
conformity than a little eccentricity.
Albert Einstein is famous as a scientific
genius, but when he was in primary school, he was
regarded by at least one of his teachers as mentally
retarded, though this might have been because they
did not perceive his potential, and were trying to
measure him by their standards, which did not apply
to him. Later on in life, when his genius had been
widely recognized, all kinds of people vied for the
honor of his company, and he was the star guest at
many distinguished gatherings. At one such party,
he was filmed wearing two different shoes, and without
socks! He explained that he had grown tired of holes
developing in his socks, so had decided not to wear
them any more.
Because of his fame, people accepted his
idiosyncrasies and looked up to him, but had he been
a social nonentity, they would no doubt have despised
him as a bum!
Those of us who are fortunate enough not
to live under totalitarian regimes have tremendous
opportunities to throw off the fetters of standardization
and find ourselves; sadly, few of us avail ourselves
of our opportunities, and are content to conform;
it's easier that way. But even our nonconformity is
often only an inverted conformity, as we hit out blindly
and without intelligence or purpose at things we don't
like or agree with, failing to see that our rebellion
is merely an endorsement of the things we rebel against,
and brings about little discernible or positive change.
To deny is to affirm.
To sum up: Things in themselves are not
boring; it is we who become bored with them, for various
reasons, and if we understood this, we would not be
the impotent victims of boredom that we often are.
I cannot honestly say that I never feel bored, but
I do know that there are ways of looking at boredom
which lessen its grip on us, even if it's only to
remind ourselves that everything changes and nothing
lasts forever; it helps.
Give yourself a break, therefore, by not
living as though you know the future. Many surprising
things lie in store for you; sit loosely in the saddle,
and stay awake!