“No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination; never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” — Lord Chesterfield
Life can have its boring moments if I don’t keep busy, but, to me, that raises a question: is the idea of boredom a penalty for idleness, controlled by societal forces that have instilled in me the idea that I must always be busy? As the proverb says, “Idleness is the root of all evil.” Therefore, can I assume that idleness I sin, as many of our preachers try to convince us? .” We’re taught that “idle hands create mischief for the devil.” There are a whole bunch more sayings like this so, to me, it’s obvious, society has a serious concern that we citizens don’t fall into idleness, and furthermore, what is boredom? Is one the consequence of the other?
I have noticed mild forms of boredom in higher forms of animals, but not as intense as in humans. For example, my cat can lay on its soft blanket by the window all day long, stirring only when it’s hungry or needs the litter box, and not get bored at all. Life seems peaceful for my cat, but when I get bored, I become restless, and life is anything but peaceful! My mind, my fingers, are itching for something to do!
I also see yogas sitting cross-legged for hours on their mats and not be bored. The only conclusion that I can come to that my boredom is conditioned; purely a state of mind. Boredom does not necessarily have to be a product of idleness.
In an article that I recently read by Jessica Leber, she claims that there are five types of boredom. I was especially interested in her first three categories of boredom. The first is Indifference. If I understand her correctly, indifference is when I watch the entire evening news hour while eating my sandwich, and come away feeling unmoved by all the negative events that took place in the world this day. In a sense, my mind was idle, but I wasn’t bored: my passive mind was being entertained to a point of indifference.
The next is calibrating. Calibrating is an unpleasant situation one might find himself in,”characterized by wandering thoughts unrelated to the present situation.” It’s like in my youthful days when I still went to school. The scene: an algebra lesson. My teacher would drone on in his monotone voice something about “a” plus “b” minus “c” equals”d” (unpleasant situation) while my mind was dreamily gazing out the window, preoccupied by imagining animal forms in the fluffy summer clouds above.
The third type of boredom Jessica Leber defines as Searching. Searching is like a “person might do to ease the discomfort of a situation one find himself in.” like, I remember once when I was still in the military standing guard in front of our Captain’s office where he was conducting an important training meeting. To relieve my boredom, I counted, then recounted, every one of the hundred plus (I forget the exact amount) of ceiling tiles that ran the entire length of the corridor! I was searching for something better to do, but military discipline demanded that my mind stay in the present moment of being ‘on guard.’
Boredom: God’s way of telling me that what I’m doing is not interesting. I should occupy my mind with interesting, constructive “stuff.”
During that military time I was condition not to think: just obey, that all my thinking will be done for me. “Hurry up and wait” was another common military conditioning, while not trying to be bored in the process–not having interesting, personal thoughts–was all part of that routine.
But all that was in the past; they were my life’s experiences. So, is that it? is idleness that causes boredom given to us as a gift that we inherit along with birthright, so that we’re guaranteed to move forward and have experiences?
The yogas have an interesting practice that addresses idleness. It’s sort of a yoga conundrum! They ask you to try and make your mind blank and still so that you have no thought in in at all. It can’t be done, because, even if you should accomplish that impossible feat of not thinking, the very act of forcing your mind not to think, is a thought! Plainly stated, my God did not create me to have an idle mind, and boredom is the ‘kick in the pants’ for me to find something to do.
For all creation, thinking is mandatory! Contrary to the hum-drum experiences in the military, or what I didn’t learn in school, life forces one to think!
But, I do have a choice: I can fritter away my time in daydreaming, or tightly center my thoughts on a specific topic or action and accomplish something that I’m desirous of doing. Act positive, as work ethicist’s might call it.
Which raises another interesting thought. Many companies have a special department, usually headed by their CEO, called a “Think Tank.” The purpose of the Think Tank is to come up with new or innovative ideas that the company can use in giving it an edge over its competitors. I’ve known people who had pleasure and honor of being part of a company’s Think Tank and one thing that’s decidedly absent during a session is concentrated thinking! Everyone seems just idly doodling and exploring all the possible “what-ifs” centered around the problem/topic of the day. It seems that our subconscious mind works best when our objective, conscious mind stays out of its way, and great ideas—solutions to vexing problems—often pop up seemingly out of nowhere when the mind is idle.
In conclusion, both an idle mind and an active mind are special attributes that we inherited from our Creator. It is wise for me to know the difference of when to be idle, and when to be active!
“Focus on being productive, not busy.” — Tim Ferris