Sunset from Caerketton in the Pentlands, just outside Edinburgh

Lessons in boredom

Some suggestions for avoiding boredom

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.
William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

It is hard to be bored when there is an infinity to see and experience. Yet so often our senses are dulled because we overvalue what others say and undervalue our own experiences.

If others have nothing to say about something then it must be boring. You do not need to be bored — just look, smell, hear and feel where you are.

Why is this not boring?

So I return to the familiar hill. Later in the day than usual, dissuaded by the morning’s gloom and wind from the regular dawn visit. Pulling up the steep grass I reflect again on how there is always more to see with each visit, each experience of this hill. Why does this not bore me? Many things do, but walking this same route week by week never gets old. Maybe there are some lessons in boredom for a world that is chronically bored, with an attention span measured in seconds; a span that seems to contract each week. What have I learnt about combating boredom?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

A book ruined my life. When I was about 15 I read Robert Pirsig’s strange autobiography — the story of his life and his ideas — Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It captivated me. My paperback copy fell apart as I read it so often. It made philosophy both heroic and romantic; the world of ideas was presented as a pure domain populated by adventurers. It was a world in which I wanted to dwell and a degree in Philosophy (tempered by joint honours in Economics) followed. Looking back I wonder, often, what would have happened had I pursued something else — science, computing finance. But I’d fallen for philosophy.

See for yourself

The book that ruined me has an episode that came to mind today. The author for a while was a teacher at college, teaching writing style…rhetoric. He recounts how he used to have his students write for a full hour about the back of their thumb.

In another class he changed the subject from the thumb to a coin, and got a full hour’s writing from every student.

He and the students found that when they really observed and considered what they themselves saw — then there was always more to see and always more to say. So often people just repeat what they hear others say. Their experience is filtered through others’ reports. They have nothing to say because they have not heard anything to repeat.

Once they got into the idea of seeing directly for themselves they also saw there was no limit to the amount they could say.

There is a lot of talk about mindfulness. I do not want to add to it, but perhaps that is what I am getting at. When you are really seeing for yourself then there is little space for boredom because there is so much to see — as Blake said there is a “world in a grain of sand”.

I climbed a soggy hill

It was the same hill as last week and the week before, but I was experiencing this hill for myself and it was different from the any other. Different also from the same hill last week. The light was different, the ground wetter and more welcoming to my feet.

I was different too — new concerns and novel worries, fresh joy circulating in my thoughts.

How can I be bored with so much change confronting me? Yet this needs to be my experience, unfiltered by others comment or commentary. This is my hill and I see so much today.

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