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  • Writer's picturePatricia Ullman

Boredom Sets In

We resist boredom with every fiber of our beings. Having our usual entertainments removed – positive or negative – we’re stuck with our naked selves. Boredom is a standard topic in meditation, and it’s an important thing to be aware of now in our quarantine.

I mentioned a Mother Jones article in a previous blog ( about a man who has spent 27 years in solitary confinement. He was interviewed in the context of our new corona virus isolation and was asked how he has managed to stay sane and productive. He summed it up by saying, “You have to learn to live with yourself.”

I live in an apartment by myself, which feels luxurious and lonely. Even though I’m used to being alone and have always needed that kind of space, this kind of isolation is different. The days blend together and are colored with the sadness and uncertainty of the health and economic crises. Sometimes I yearn to be in a house where I can sit on the front porch, or go out into the garden; I’d love to be able to go outside any time without worrying about the germ gauntlet of elevator buttons, door knobs, and shared air. I yearn for the company of my children and their families. I think of people who aren’t used to being alone so much, or who are cooped up with partners, children, or friends for unhealthy lengths of time. Domestic violence (physical and emotional abuse) has spiked: On the positive side, social internet connections are also spiking, people are baking and cooking and sharing recipes, and the importance of the arts is becoming brilliantly obvious.

But this goes on and on, the food becomes less interesting, and we can feel less motivated day by day. The question is how to keep it up – how to keep some positive exertion when we feel so sad, bored, stuck, and alone?

In meditation, gentleness and a sense of humor are key when we feel resistance to the refreshing but unfamiliar boredom of pausing from our usual activities. It’s counter-productive to be heavy-handed with ourselves, because we’ll soon lose our appreciation of the peace and insight that more balanced meditation will bring, and our resistance and irritation will increase. The idea of exertion in mindfulness teachings is the opposite of drudgery; that is, appreciation, nonjudgment, and kindness are key to benefitting from mindfulness practice. These principles are the same for relating with boredom in our everyday lives. We can learn a lot from boredom.

Stopping our familiar physical and mental momentum is counter-habitual, going against the stream of our endless chain reactions of thoughts, feelings, and activities. That new space can feel both refreshing and threatening, so we need to be extra caring, extra sensitive, and extra alert. We can feel like we’re two people–one who knows that something is good for us, and the other one who’s trying to talk us out of it. Our habits are strong, and we’re the same people we were before this all started. I don’t have the energy to look at most of the information I receive about how to be more cheerful, mindful, physically fit, organized (etc.) while in our current isolation. “Give me a break” is one of my mantras.

But at the same time, I feel that if I can relate to each moment and each day with love and kindness, I will not only get through this but will experience it as a significant and historical part of my life. When I slip up and do/eat/say/etc. something unhelpful, I can just give myself a hug (or a shrug) and keep going, with gentleness and awareness.

So – remember to feel your body breathing; feel your feet on the floor; listen to the sounds around you; look at the sky. Life goes on, and how we live it is up to each of us in all of our different circumstances. We can do this, alone and together.

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