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Mindful : October 2016
The second step to practicing with boredom is to stay with it. The difficulty of this should not be underestimated (remember, it drove some people to zap volts at their ankles) so it’s important to go gently. With compassion, we can acknowledge that what we’re attempting is hard—we’re going against the grain of our evolutionary history and current culture, so it’s hardly surprising we encounter some resistance. The fact that we’ve noticed our boredom is good news: It means we’ve stepped out of the autopi- lot of compulsively seeking distraction. We can also remind ourselves that each time we stay present to what’s coming up, rather than react- ing on impulse, we’re honing resilience. We can approach boredom softly, with kindness, per- haps for short sessions of a few minutes to begin with, knowing there’s no goal to achieve except awareness and acceptance of the thoughts and sensations that arise from moment to moment. “Excellent,” we might say to ourselves as we sit in the tedium, “just for this time I’ve set aside, I’m noticing boredom and all my desires to react to it. Well done, me!” Sometimes, when boredom is an enduring theme in our practice and our life, it can be a signal to take a third step, which is making a change. Boredom may be a sign that we need to engage with more meaningful activities, that we’ve somewhat lost touch with our sense of purpose. As we watch our mind and body, we There is even evidence that allowing the mind a spell of boredom—in effect, resting the brain—leads to more creativity in subsequent tasks, an effect psychologists call the “incubation advantage.” will likely notice this as something different from the restless craving or numbness that we usually call boredom. It’s a deeper sense of yearning inside—a heartfelt, authentic voice, calling us toward a meaningful life. When we hear this voice, we intuitively know we can trust its message. We are also more likely to notice it as we deepen our practice—we can disting uish its quiet call from the cacophony of other inner voices, and we develop the capacity for courageous choice: to follow our hearts carefully, steadfastly, intentionally, rather than being driven by impulse. Because most of us are easily seduced into making reactive changes when bored, it’s helpful to practice the first two steps first, and not be rushed too soon into action. It’s sometimes said that boredom is three steps from equanimity. If we can stay with it, rather than fixating on and reacting to it, we can start to experience a more restful ease. This usually takes time and practice, but as we become friendly to boredom, we let our inner emotional temperature drop from unbearably hot to a cooler, more refreshing equilibrium. There is even evidence that allowing the mind a spell of boredom—in effect, resting the brain— leads to more creativity in subsequent tasks, an effect psychologists call the “incubation advan- tage.” And that’s got to be better than an electric shock, hasn’t it? ● 58 mindful October 2016 well-being