The Zen of Boredom

Boredom has its uses. For one, it can be the perfect way to wind down an uptight brain – if you know what to do with all the nothing stretching in front of you. Last week I mentioned how I used to come home after a long, dreary day brimming with ideas. This month I experienced the opposite: having so much time I couldn’t fill it.

I dedicated this month to writing, getting 25k done on the novel and more. I achieved that writing only 2 – 3 hours a day. Next month I might try to stretch it to four hours, but I’ve realized I can’t stretch it well beyond, into the 8 – 12 hour mark, because its burns out my brain. In all the time I didn’t spend writing I exercised, visited friends, and watched stuff on Netflix. But mostly I read articles, novels, and short stories. I filled my brain with prose.

It proved to be too much for me. I’d get to the end of the night and my brain would be so tired I’d zone out until I decided to say screw it and go to bed early. I spent so much time creating and consuming narrative I could barely daydream about what to write next. I was antsy. I was bored. So I decided I really need a hobby, a different pursuit – one where I can zone out for an hour or two.

I took up modding again – in extreme moderation. I started with the most tedious job sitting on my mod’s to do list. Sitting at the computer clicking on the same menu over and over to replace one object with another. Its particular tedium is similar to data entry. And it felt so good. It was the exact kind of zoning out my brain needed. One where attention is required but it only takes the slightest amount of thought.

I’ve identified a few kinds of boredom, some good and some bad.

Antsy boredom: the bad kind of boredom. You don’t know what to do with yourself. Maybe you just finished something and don’t feel like you have enough time to start something new. Maybe you’re just burnt out. Whatever it is, this kind of boredom is a gaping yawn across an abyss of ARRGH.

The solution is to do something. Plan the next thing, go for a walk, distract yourself with mindless entertainment. If you can’t muster that, maybe nap or go to bed. Do anything but sitting around feeling miserable. I find it easily cure by…

Mindless activity: many people think this kind of boredom is bad as well, but it’s actually rewarding. For one, you get stuff done. It gives your brain a break if you let yourself zone out and concentrate on the task. Even a useless mindless activity can sweep the cobwebs out of your brain.

A friend of mine used to blow up a blank page in MS Paint and color it in one pixel at a time, and while chatting we all used to watch. Does that sound like the most boring thing ever? Well, it is! It’s funny how interesting a boring task can be. Mindless activity also leads to the next effect of boredom…

Daydreaming: what happens when you’ve reached a moment of zen. Even the people who push “mindfulness” as the secret to fully living neglect simple daydreaming. “Stay in the moment,” they say. How about no. If I’m staring at the clear blue sky and a new scene for my novel bursts into my head in full color, I’m sure as hell not pushing it out of my mind. Half the time it’s the reason I let myself zone out.

I’ve fought all my life for the personal space necessary to nurture my inner self. The question, “What are you doing?” when it looks like I’m “doing nothing” infuriates me. I tell people, “I’m thinking,” and they look at me like I’ve grown a second head. Then they wonder why they have all their good ideas in the shower, and the daydreamers say, “Duh.”

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Sarah Dimento

The only thing interesting about me is my interest in interesting things – and sometimes I make cool shit.

4 thoughts to “The Zen of Boredom”

  1. It’s so easy to run and try to banish the boredom with SOMETHING. ANYTHING.

    Instead of examining it.

    We are yanked about all the time by modern busyness. Our attention span is shortened to the sound bite and the flashed image.

    Boredom can be a gift, but not if you keep trying to return to sender.

    I have a bit of the same problem, but different: how to use the many hours every day in which I CAN’T function because the brain just doesn’t. Sometimes I can get it to work for a while, and try to use that time reasonably well. Sometimes I just stare at the wall.

    I’ve tried a lot of things, but haven’t found a consistent solution to the problem. The one that works best is to take another nap – do the breathing – quiet the boredom down to counting the breaths over and over until the half hour of my life is gone again. But it always helps a bit.

    1. Being allowed to daydream is something I repeatedly have to give myself permission to do after fighting guilt because most of our lives we spend, if not actually accomplishing things, trying to distract ourselves or at least look busy so no one bugs us about sitting around.

      I’ve only been a position like yours once, when I was on a particularly bad medication for my migraines for a couple weeks before I found enough brains in me to stop taking it and go back to the doctor. It left me so dull of mind (and all the other senses) I needed my boyfriend to hold my hand while taking me grocery shopping because I was so out of it. I spent all that time daydreaming.

      In fact, that’s the point in my life where the stories shoved deep down inside me, for what I thought was forever because I’d given up on sharing them, all welled up in me. The story took me over completely. I just kind of swam in story until my brain fog cleared. After that I started thinking seriously about writing again, or maybe that’s the point where I realized I had to be a writer because I had all this stuff in me crying to get out. Anyway, it was when I could do nothing but daydream.

      1. Sounds like daily life is just too noisy.

        So many people have gone to their grave without writing the stories they planned to write; it’s practically a cliche.

        So at least I have ONE published. No plans to die soon, but this story came as a whole (as you say – in one big chunk), and I never dreamed it would take me three whole books to do it properly, so I have to get back to it now that I’m launched.

        You must honor the stories that come up from the well of what is uniquely you.

        If you don’t write them, who will? That doesn’t mean it HAS to be painful; I think the angst is overrated (except for all those notebooks I have). I’ve gotten more done since I learned to wrestle fear to a standstill, every day if necessary. It means that you have to write. Because you can. And that’s a gift few receive.

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