I wouldn’t say that I’m immune to boredom, but it’s not something that I experience much — and when a feeling of boredom does crop up in my mind, I try to send it packing pretty quickly. For many years — since long before I started practicing meditation — I’ve held a low opinion of boredom and of those people who talk a lot about being bored. Boredom, it has always seemed to me, is a state of almost criminal ignorance, a willful turning of a blind eye to the fundamental truth that what is happening in the present moment is never uninteresting.
I tend to get a lot of suspicious glares and skepticism from fellow Buddhists when I talk about this. Buddhists, apparently, hold the concept of boredom in some kind of high regard. Chogyam Trungpa, the great Tibetan meditation master, spoke about boredom as being a core part of the spiritual path, and described two types of boredom: “hot” boredom, the type that is so strong and uncomfortable that you almost can’t sit still, and “cool” boredom, a more realistic mindset that you settle into when you begin to transform and overcome your “hot” boredom through consistent meditation practice.
When I tell other Buddhists that I don’t really experience boredom, they look at me as if I were mad, or merely deluding myself. Perhaps, they think, I just haven’t really gotten down to the real stuff yet, the nitty-gritty. They look at me with pity and assure me that I’ll get there sooner or later. Perhaps they are right. But it has always seemed to me that boredom springs from a state of mind that completely misses the point.
This is not to say that I don’t experience what other people might call boredom. I am restless and easily distracted, and the resistance my ego puts up towards practice is sometimes so fierce that even staying on my cushion for an entire session is a battle between two opposing wills within myself. (This is the blessing of group practice: my choices are reduced, and I’m compelled to sit there because I don’t want to disturb other people.) I suspect those experiences are what Chogyam Trungpa meant by “hot” boredom. But if I am reluctant to call a duck a duck, it is because I don’t see even my most extreme moments of restlessness and resistance as moments of boredom. If I really look at them, even those moments are, in all their hotness and discomfort, fundamentally interesting and mysterious — even fascinating. How could the question of boredom enter the picture?
Boredom is the little temper tantrum the ego throws when the present moment doesn’t satisfy its demands and doesn’t provide sufficient entertainment value. It is an inherently childish, petulant emotional state that can operate only when we choose to depreciate and devalue — which is to say, to ignore — the moment that is right in front of us. Boredom arises because we think “nothing is happening,” but this is a deeply unrealistic and jaundiced view of our actual experience. Each moment of consciousness, whether it meets the demands of the ego or not, has arisen from a complex web of interrelated causes and conditions stretching across the entire universe. It appears before us for this single instant only, and disappears again as quickly as it arose. And it will never be repeated. Never. Boredom can arise only when we are deluded enough to believe that the same moment, the same experience, is repeating itself.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it,” Alice Walker wrote in “The Color Purple.” But isn’t this just what we do when we are bored? We fail to notice the beauty and the details of ordinary experience because we distort them with broad, dumb labels and concepts: “Field.” “Flowers.” When we slow down enough to actually *see* purple flowers in a field, to actually see and take an interest in the details of our experience beyond concept, we find that everything, at all times, is vivid and shocking in being just what it is.
So I’ll plant my flag in the ground and state my case clearly; Buddhists can give me all the flack they want, but I’ll stick to my guns on this (at least for now). Boredom is a totally unacceptable and frivolous way of relating to our human experience. It’s morally repugnant, and it’s for dummies. It’s time we all grew up and put boredom away, along with our imaginary friends, our belief in Santa Claus, and other childhood coping mechanisms.