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March 23rd, 2019
Boredom is an underrated activity in the restless, fast-paced world we find ourselves in. Boredom must be separated out from leisure time or relief. Doing nothing due to exhaustion from the day’s activities does not qualify for this subject. Leisure time comes closer, but there is actually too much freedom in such a phrase. Leisure time can be filled with anything: social media feeds, T.V. shows and mindless eating.
Boredom is actually a more concentrated effort: one that displaces all pleasure and distraction to other times and forces the mind into a kind of dark tunnel.
The myth of Writer’s block is a good image but a bad example. For those who wish to do creative work, staring at a blank page often degenerates into a kind of passionate masochism – which is inevitably a totally useless rollercoaster of emotions that helps one embody the chic identity of a starving artist. (This short hand is a rather brutal assessment, and one should refer to Episode 6 of Tinkered Thinking for a more thoughtful discussion of the topic). For those who do not fall into this category, the activity of staring at a blank page might sound like a kind of weird torture, especially if it is compounded with memories of student life when one was under duress to produce some writing on some topic - school certainly does seem to have an uncanny ability to strip down such activities to their least enjoyable parts.
Regardless of the attitudes towards such strange behavior, there is ultimately a great utility in the constraints such a situation creates.
The blank page creates a far more pure form of boredom than leisure time which is more like a buffet of entertainment and distraction.
The fact is, pure boredom is not sustainable. This framing might hint at some kind of meditation practice where one might imagine the goal to be no thinking – a kind of pure boredom, but such a discussion of focus and attention – while related – will be more fully explored later. Any person who has attempted meditation for any length of time knows just how difficult it is to keep thoughts and memories from arising. It’s from this very wellspring that the artist sifts for honey and gold. But not everything that sparkles in the flow of our consciousness is a rabbit hole worth exploring. Like a prospector who sifts mud only to find a broken piece of glass instead of a diamond, this game is initially about traversing a large quantity of thought and memory and then zeroing in for quality.
Reliably making this connection, however, is a practice and a kind of art with regards to shifting one’s perspective.
It’s somewhat similar to the phenomenon of an optical illusion. Particularly the images that look like static, but if viewed at with the right angle, at the right distance and with slightly crossed eyes, suddenly an image of Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse pops out as though it exists in front of the surface upon which it emanates.
This allegorical image is nearly perfect when mapped onto our own internal train of thought. We can see it as an uncontrollable cacophony. A static noise of consciousness which requires distraction to drown out. Or, with a shift in perspective on such a phenomenon, we can see it as that prospector’s stream in which lies gold.
It’s the shift in perspective which is the trick, and which often requires practice. What many people think of as a terrifying void while staring at a blank page is actually a roiling vat of memory and thought that we can pull from if only we know how to connect to it. Whether we think of it as sifting a stream of consciousness or throwing a baited line into that roiling vat, it’s of no matter. These are merely analogies that cannot supplant the necessary practice required to fulfill such analogies.
This is where boredom comes in as an infinitely useful tool. Only by sitting without distraction, constrained by our own intention to somehow connect with this mess of memory and thought do we actually develop the muscle which enables one to make that connection on command.
This episode references Episode 6: What’s Your Passion?
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