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December 1995, Volume 3 Nr 4, Issue 28

Boredom

In this issue of Metaphoria, I am going to explore the nature of boredom. What is boredom? Where does it come from? Is there a connection between boredom and not caring for ourselves, for others, for the state of the world? Who has the ultimate responsibility for one’s boredom? Is boredom an internal consequence of an external event? Or, is boredom an ego projection onto an external event of our own internal state of affairs? Is boredom a synonym for resisting learning something new?

As a teacher, I often hear my students say that they are bored. History is boring. Math is boring. Homework is boring. Studying and watching history happen on the news is boring. Many say that the towns that they live in are boring. There is nothing to do.

When I hear my students say that they are bored, I tell them to go and spend some time at the lumberyard. When they ask what I mean I say that if they go to the lumberyard, they will feel right at home with all the other boards. When students tell me that they are bored, they are asking for sympathy.

Definition

I believe that being bored is admission of being boring. Boredom is as boredom does. Boredom is not right thinking. One way to look at being bored is to recognize that we have run out of distractions. It is our distractions that keep us from being conscious. Although our distractions, through emotion packed events such as jealousy, anger, fear and attack, might feel negative, the ego sees them as better than not feeling anything at all.

Boredom is masked but not eliminated by more wrong thinking. Realizing that we do not know what to feel when not distracted is a step in the right direction.

The western mind is so busy trying to figure people and things out (including ourselves) that the silence which occurs when no thinking takes place is alarming to the ego. This ego’s fear can be manifest as boredom, a signal that the ego is no longer being entertained. A need to eliminate the boredom then sets in and we resume our hunt for distraction. The distraction may be television, food, emotional outburst, negative behavior, obsessive involvement with a hobby, excessive running, being a couch potato or walking around announcing that we are bored as if the universe really was going to do something about our internal state of affairs, or as if someone other than we ourselves are responsible for what we feel.

Boredom is closely associated with depression. That is not to say that when we are bored we are necessarily depressed, but rather, when we are depressed we are more often than not bored.

I recall a time in my life when life itself was boring. There was nothing that could catch or pique my interest. I could not and would not eat, nor had I the desire to engage in activities that typically were exciting, fun and interesting. When depressed we care about very little. I believe it to be more than a coincidence that when we care very little about anything, we feel depressed and bored.

Boredom, like depression, is a manifestation of our state of mind. So are jealousy, fear, anger, etc. If we see jealousy, fear and anger as emotion or energy-in-motion, then boredom is just the opposite. It is the lessening, or dulling, of our energy for life, our interest in ourselves and the universe.

My on-line thesaurus finds the following synonyms for boredom: dullness, indifference apathy, lack of interest, monotony, ennui, doldrums, listlessness, te-dium. Without exception, each of these de-scribes a state of mind rather than an external state of affairs.

In The Society of Mind, Marvin Minsky, the cofounder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology states:

Minds are simply what brains do. Whenever we speak about a mind, we’re speaking of the processes that carry our brains from state to state.

It is often accepted that when we repeat the same actions over and over again, we become bored with them. This is true even if the action is pleasurable when first done. Minsky suggests that since our minds are pleasure machines, they protect themselves from repeating the same acts over and over again since to do so would suggest either wasting our time or not learning something new. Yet, I wonder about my father, who for decades worked as a loafer in a bakery, pulling dozens of loaves of bread at a time from the oven in repetitive motion for ten to sixteen hours per day. He never complained about being bored. I remember him being tired yet satisfied at the end of a long day on the job. I also recall that the man working next to him was deaf and mute. He taught my father sign language.

My father learned Slavic and Germanic languages as a European living in Buchovina, Rumania playing and learning with other city kids. The Arabic and Hebrew languages that he spoke were learned from his involvement in World War II, stationed in Northern Africa. He spent much time driving through the Sahara Desert as the General's chauffeur. As a consequence he ran into many foreigners. Learning their language was both useful and an opportunity to keep the brain processes (the mind) occupied. His life experience along with the dozen or so languages that he spoke made him an educated man even though his formal education ended in the seventh grade.

If mind is a process of the brain as Minsky states, then amidst a seemingly boring job my father was mindful. Although he did what he had to do to insure financial security and place food on the table for a family of three, he managed to keep from being bored.

Why is it then that many would find my father's life/worklife overwhelmingly boring? The answer, I believe, lies partly in internal decisions that we make and the state of affairs of our psychic house that we choose to accept for ourselves.

In a previous issue of Metaphoria, I wrote that spirituality is the moment-to-moment internal state of affairs of our mind. We may be in good spirits or bad spirits. Boredom, I believe, is a choice we make to be in bad spirits.

My father never ran out of things to do. He was seldom bored. He learned something new, fixed some appliance or other. If he did not know how, he learned as much about it as he could and then fixed it. He kept himself busy, sometimes too busy. Possibly, he feared running out of distractions so he made certain that there was always something to do.

When I was a child the pace of life was slower. I don't remember being bored much then. It seems that my circle of friends were seldom bored. I remember playing hardball, touch football, kick-the-can in the city streets. At the age of thirteen I scavenged electronic parts from my neighbors' discarded televisions and radios in order to build electronic devices from Popular Electronics and Electronics Illustrated magazines. I have a scar on my hand to show for it. The weather interested me very much as did short-wave listening, writing a newsletter for teenagers and becoming an amateur radio operator. Yet, today, some youngsters find these topics boring. If I try to introduce such topics (and others) some of my students respond, "I don't want to do that" or "That's boring. It’s no fun."

It is important to note that most students are not boring nor bored. They are engaged in creative conversation, writing, music making, visual arts, sports, spirituality. Perhaps, there is a more vibrant, more conscious, searching (the identity crisis) among teens than among any other indentifiable group.

The Boring Machine

One of the more popular programs on television today is the educational science program, Bill Nye the Science Guy. I've watched many of Bill's programs on video tape and they do have educational merit. The program is however, fast paced, so much so that while discussing it with a few science teaching colleagues, the conclusion we came to was that it caters to a sound bite style of presentation and the inherent hyperactivity of the television technical events are designed to keep the viewer attention. Producers know that watching a box for any period of time is boring.

Could it be that the couch-potato consciousness that television technology foists upon us contributes to our boredom? Being vegged out is, after all, boring. Does TV, rather than eliminate or reduce boredom in our lives, actually contribute to it by abating thinking and its practice, and substituting vegging out for consciousness? So, what once was boring is now exciting: doing nothing and watching a box; while what was exciting - being creative and engaged in cerebral massage, - is now both boring and even painful. When I tell my students that I do not have a television at home capable of receiving network broadcasts, satellite or cable, they ask, "What do you do to have fun?" When I reply that I read and I have a hobby or two, or that I have interesting conversation and discussion with family and human interaction, some say, "Sounds boring!"

I believe that it goes beyond mere television watching. Our boredom also comes from the messages that are conveyed on television. One of them is the so-called American Dream: making money. Compare the fun of flipping baseball cards and winning them of my youth with collecting baseball cards for profit today. The same is true for comics. Our preoccupation with the monetary aspects of everything has robbed us of the simple pleasures of doing them. We overvalue the object and undervalue the process. Thus, unless something appears to be happening, such as making money, being entertained, we find our involvement with them useless at most and boring at best.

Boredom Creep

Television enters our homes in a myriad of ways. These include direct network broadcasts, cable, large dish TVRO (Television Receive Only) satellite and within the last year small dish DSS (Digital Satellite System). The latter presents us with a steady stream of binary "1" and "0" data that provides crystal clear viewing of up to one-hundred-seventy-five channels. Then, there is the phenomenal explosion of the Internet with hundreds of millions of computer users gaining access to incredible amounts of information across political, social and cultural boundaries, all available at the click of a mouse button.

Something is happening on the Internet. I call it Boredom Creep. While the Internet has the fascinating power to bring information to the people and for the people, information that makes their lives more informed and involved with the world and each other, the method of delivering this information and its intent is shifting.

Just a few short months ago, the Internet was a vehicle for research, funded by the National Science Foundation. It was touted, and correctly so, as a wondrous educational tool. Children, adults and elders alike joined the ranks of Internet surfers and found themselves, for example, reading Israeli newspapers the day of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. A colleague of mine searched the complete text of Charles Dicken's Great Expectations for the occurrence of the word hand or hands in order to make a point in English classes. The children in my family send and receive E-mail worldwide through our Internet connection. All of this and much more is possible on the Internet now.

The addition of software called Hot Java by Sun Microsystems and Shockwave for Director by Macromedia is changing the Internet. Described by the computer industry as exciting interactive multimedia, I call it boredom creep. It is another step in the road down to less thinking and mindfulness and toward more intrusion and distraction

Macromedia states: "In addition to the static text and graphics of HTML, Director adds synchronized graphics, sounds, animation, and local interactivity." Consider the following: last evening our son, Dylan and I, downloaded Shockwave for Director and installed it onto our relatively slow computer. We explored the demonstration points of the software. Within minutes, Dylan was involved (free of charge) with the interactive site "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers MEGADVENTURE from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment!" where,

if you've got the nerve and stamina to test your skills against evil villains and help the Power Rangers save the world, then you're ready to start.

From what I have seen from this site (and others), the goal is to use the mesmerizing power of television with the interactive appeal of the Internet together in a way that further reverses the definition of boredom in our lives. When we have nothing to do we can turn to yet another version of staring at a box, mindlessly pressing buttons with the mental activity of staring at a rock as the images of what is on the screen are burned into our unconscious for the purpose of getting the preprogrammed message across, be it a phrase, an idea, a product, the sense that we need to buy something or a solicitation for an opinion.

Thus, the Internet may be changing from a provider of information for the people to becoming a vehicle through which to make profit. Rather than informing the public, the Internet is morphing (if I may use the phrase) into appealing to people's boredom for the purpose of entertaining them and charging them for the privilege. Unfortunately, this is what happens often when a good idea funded by taxpayer dollars is turned over to the free market system. Yet, the nation seems to be more concerned about censoring sexually explicit material on the Internet than the insidious capitalization and exploitation of our boredom.

Boredom at School

Many students will tell you that their experience of school is boring. This is much less a consequence of the school than it is a consequence of society in general and students in particular being separated from their sources of distraction. In school, one might have to think, to get up from the couch, concentrate and participate without constant entertainment.

One response to student boredom at school has been the admission of Channel 1 into the classroom. Presumably, Channel 1 makes learning more fun. The Campaign for a Non-Commercial Classroom states that the classroom:

...is one place that should NEVER be for sale! Every day, children in 12,000 public schools in this country sit in their classrooms watching television.

It's supposed to be education, but it's a news-based commercial program --- littered with ads for cosmetics, sneakers, and junk food. It's supposed to save the schools money, but the time used by the commercials alone costs taxpayers the equivalent of one full day of teaching.

It's supposed to benefit the schools, but it benefits advertisers. They pay $200,000 a half minute for ads fed to a captive audience of millions of teenagers.

It's supposed to enrich the curriculum, but teachers, school boards, and parents have no control over what is shown...and when.

It's supposed to be 'optional', but children are being punished for refusing to watch.

It's supposed to enhance education and provide free TV equipment but as studies show, it's a tradeoff that has no educational value.

It's supposed to offer choice but there has been a concerted effort to prevent any debate about it.

It's supposed to be a new idea for public education, but, if it continues to grow, it is one of the greatest threats to public education that we know of...

...K-III, the company that sponsors Channel 1, gives participating schools a Satellite dish, a VCR and classroom televisions for the school's own use. In exchange, schools must use 90 percent of the programs and guarantee that 80 percent of the students are watching them.

One need hardly be an educator to realize that Channel 1 and other promotions like it attempt to take advantage of student's perceptions that school is boring while substituting their own boring devices for quality education. The attempt to deliver young minds on a silver platter to commercial interests needs to be resisted. These ventures can be replaced with time, energy and resources that help students on their journey.

Reversing Boredom

Boredom is an anti-emotion. It is a dulling rather than a heightening of energy in motion. This anti-emotion is a sense of weariness or dissatisfaction. Rather than being energy in motion, an emotion that is in need of direction and channeling, boredom is a malaise with a noticeable lack of energy.

Boredom is a consequence of not caring about ourselves, those around us, the school community, our neighborhood, our country and the world. Boredom comes from the ego's clamor that our present state of not caring needs to be recognized by the universe as deserving attention and replacement through diversion and entertainment. Of course, the ego would never admit to not caring about the host within which it dwells nor the planet at large. Its desire to turn boredom into excitement through making the boring (not caring) exciting is yet another disguise for making its projections its perceptions. What better way to make not caring and inaction a way of life than by calling them boredom.

The way out then is to drop some of our activities of mindless distraction and to replace them with giving of oneself. We can train ourselves to use boredom as a signpost guiding us in the direction toward caring. This requires the development of self-motivated volunteerism. Waiting to be asked begs the issue. It is the ego returning to the same old story of calling things boring again. It is the kettle calling the pot black.

When are we going to wake up and recognize that it is the ego that is boring and is responsible for our boredom? Don't listen to the ego. We can use the sense of boredom the same way that we can use jealousy, hate, anxiety, etc. They are a calling out for action. When we think about it, mindfully examining our lives, we see that when we live through these emotions we come out with an improved positive self image. When we take steps to give of ourselves we develop an improved view of the world.

At the school where I teach, each student must complete and verify fifty-two hours of community service over four years. The community is encouraged to contact the school with current possibilities and new opportunities as they happen. A few possibilities at our school include:

  • visiting the elderly at the local nursing home
  • volunteering in Project Mentor becoming big brothers and sisters to younger students at the middle school nearby
  • tutoring peers
  • helping out at town fair
  • helping at a church function of their choice
  • participating in town cleanup day
  • working at the local food shelf
  • helping with school recycling efforts
  • becoming a literacy volunteer

Responsibility

Possibly, our boredom comes from resistance to trying something new. Have we ever given of ourselves and expected nothing else in return? To many, the thought of doing so activates the ego to respond with, "I'm not going to do something for nothing." Yet, it is precisely this giving for the sake of giving, our altruistic behavior, that is simultaneously the nature of unconditional love and the genesis of our self-worth and good feelings.

We cannot be bored while practicing unconditional love. When we are faithfully involved in the act of giving of ourselves, of caring, we become one with the giving. Thus, the giver and the giving are one and the same. To reach this state of oneness (which some might call enlightenment) we need to take the first step of accepting responsibility for our world view. It is we who are responsible for our boredom or the lack of it. It is we who decide whether or not to volunteer. Erik H. Erikson states,

Care is the widening concern for what has been generated by love, necessity, or accident; it overcomes the ambivalence adhering to irreversible obligation.

To be ambivalent is to be one with boredom. Just as giver and giving are the same when we practice unconditional love, being boring and being bored are the same when we are ambivalent.

A Course in Miracles teaches we only need to want the miracle to happen. The first step is the decision of taking responsibility for change. It is letting go of the obligatory ambivalence that has us trapped in boredom and blaming the universe for our condition. With a little practice, a spark of desire, the letting go of some ego resistance, our boredom can be transformed into caring leading to the calmness, peace and quiet which we seek. After all, that is what we inherently are.

Finding the Kingdom Within

If those who lead you say to you:
"See, the Kingdom is in the sky,"
then the birds of the sky will precede you.
If they say to you, "It is in the sea," then the fish will
     precede you.

Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.

When you come to know yourselves, you will become
     known and you will realize that it is you who are the
    sons and daughters of the living Father and Mother.

But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.

from "The Gospel of Saint Thomas"

1995 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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