On a recent Southwest flight across country, I noticed that the man in the window seat in my row and the man diagonally across from me, got briskly onto the plane, put their suitcases and briefcases and coats in the overhead bin [In spite of repeated requests from the flight attendants that people store their smaller item under the seat in front of them, and hold their coats until everyone had a place in the bin for their carry-ons. Just saying…]. Then they flipped open their smartphones and began to play video games.
A few minutes later, a father flying with his two young children got onto the plane and chose the seats across the aisle from me. The older child – a little boy who got the window seat – was looking outside, presumably watching the people load the luggage onto the plane. He turned to his father and asked a question I didn’t hear (because the flight attendant was asking people yet again to put their smaller item under the seat in front of them and keep their coats until everyone had a place…etc. No one whose coat and smaller item were already in the bin leaped to their feet, smacked their forehead, and took their smaller items and coats out of the bin. Just saying…). The little boy’s face was alight with interest in whatever he had been watching until his father, clearly with good intentions, silenced him by putting some kind of device in his hand so that he wouldn’t get bored and (maybe) cranky.
I don’t know any of these people; I will never see any of them again (except by pure chance). I don’t know whether – off a plane – they are given to making conversation, or planting gardens, or answering incessant questions from curious children, or staring into space, or spending long periods of time walking and pondering, or sitting and pondering, or meditating in full lotus. What I do know is that for the length of the flight, they never once turned off their devices – except for take-off and landing, and one trip to the bathroom for the little boy and his father. Which gave me an opportunity to wonder about an article I had just read concerning the benefits and blessings of boredom.
Let me just say that boredom is not a state to which I look forward with eager anticipation, so it is hard for me to be critical of other people who find boredom…well, boring. But as I think back over my life, I am grateful for a certain amount of benign neglect from my parents during my early years when the adults around me had more important things to do than entertain me. Like put food on the table and a roof over my head. When my father was in college on the G.I. Bill, trying to cram four years of study into three so he could start earning a salary sooner rather than later, and my mother was working to pay the bills (I was 4 and 5 and 6), complaining about being bored did not get my parents’ attention very often. Mostly it got a distracted, “If you’re bored, you can find something to do.”
And they were right. It turns out that boredom is a really important component of creativity. We actually need time when the same old-same old is not exciting any more, when we have no one to talk to, when the coloring book is all colored, when the electricity goes out, when you are stuck at the airport after all the shops have closed and you left your book on the bus…these are times when your mind and heart begin to dream in strange new ways, to push the boundaries, to imagine outside the box. They are times of inspiration – literally, times when you can breathe. (And maybe it feels like that is all you can do: breathe. How interesting is that? Well, maybe not all that interesting on the surface, but (in fact) essential, life-giving. Worth paying attention to once in awhile.)
The world most of us live in, has little patience with even the possibility of being bored. We do not get points for down-time. We are expected to move at a faster and faster pace each year to stay ahead, or at least even. It can be pretty scary even to think about stepping off the merry-go-round when it is going around at 65 or 70 mph. Will we survive? If we do, what are we going to miss? Will we be left behind or left out of something important? We are taught to want constant stimulation (preferably entertaining stimulation) because it is good for the economy. And once we start moving fast enough, it becomes self-sustaining…because adrenaline is pumping non-stop.
But creative and sustainable solutions to complex problems are rarely quick. They don’t happen at warp speed. They take thought, and wondering, and trial and error, and more thought, and some discussion maybe. New ideas, new possibilities, new ways of being take time. Painting or composing or learning to dance takes time; invention takes time; research takes time; looking for new stars and planets takes time; living with gorillas until they trust you takes time; discovering that your theory was wrong takes time. And a lot of the time it takes is Just. Plain. Boring. Sometimes it’s repetitive (the 50,000th plie is boring; the 343rd day sitting in the rain watching the gorillas pick nits off each other is boring; the 93rd hour of staring at the same patch of sky 143 light years away looking for a minuscule dot is boring), sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it’s despairing. But then at 50,001, or 344, or 93 hours and 18 minutes something shifts. You do it just a bit differently, you see with different eyes, and the world changes.
This is why I have developed the discipline of taking sabbath. I am still not very good at it even six years after I started practicing. I am very good at being busy, but not so good at being still. Sabbath is the discipline of allowing myself to be bored, of resting myself into stillness, of not expecting to be productive or, alternately, entertained. It is the practice of being. Just being.
I choose to do this because I am trying to become someone who can turn off the electronics, put down the book, stop creating lists in my head, and bore myself right down to the center of my being where I am imprinted with G-d’s own image. And then in that empty no-thing, no-time, no-space, I can let that divine image imagine with the same profound, abundant creativity that unfolded the universe. That much miracle and imagination is in me, in you, ready to pour out if we will just bore down far enough to tap it.
Maybe all the world needs is a little boring.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2014, Immram Chara, LLC
Note: The first photo is the fiber piece, Transformation. It is available through my Etsy shop. The final photo is the Root Chakra square from the Chakra Panel, also available through the Etsy shop. The Raven is the piece, Immram Chara — my personal totem. And a reminder: I will be going on sabbatical in early April for four months; the shop will be on vacation. If there are items you wish to purchase, now is the time.