A few days ago a friend forwarded me a post on DailyOM.com called “Boredom: Fanning the Creative Flames.” It says:
The human mind thrives on novelty. What was once a source of pleasure can become tedious after a time. Though our lives are full, boredom lurks around every corner because we innately long for new experiences. Yet boredom by its very nature is passive. In this idle state of mind, we may feel frustrated at our inability to channel our mental energy into productive or engaging tasks. We may even attempt to lose ourselves in purposeless or self-destructive pursuits. While this can be a sign of depression, it can also be an invitation issued from your mind, asking you to challenge yourself. Boredom can become the motivation that drives you to learn, explore the exotic, experiment, and harness the boundless creative energy within.
In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, boredom is perceived as a pathway to self-awareness. Boredom itself is not detrimental to the soul–it is the manner in which we respond to it that determines whether it becomes a positive or a negative influence in our lives.
A bored mind can be the canvas upon which innovation is painted and the womb in which novelty is nourished. When you identify boredom as a signal that you need to test your boundaries, it can be the force that presses you to strive for opportunities you thought were beyond your reach and to indulge your desire for adventure.
The wisdom in these words is especially important to depressives and addicts. Because the depressed person often looks to a person, place or thing, to take away her pain, and an addict does the same to numb himself, or to avoid the uncomfortable feelings hidden underneath the addiction. In his book “The Addictive Personality,” author Craig Nakken writes:
Any addictive relationship begins when a person repeatedly seeks the illusion of relief to avoid unpleasant feelings or situations. This is nurturing through avoidance–an unnatural way of taking care of one’s emotional needs. At this point, addicts start to give up natural relationships and the relief they offer. They replace these relationships with the addictive relationship.
In other words, addicts, even if they have given up the addictive object, remain vulnerable to swapping the right and peaceful and sometimes-boring path with an exciting one that could get them into lots of trouble.
Boredom, then, is the door to addiction, distraction and danger or creativity, innovation, and growth.
The trickiest part is that first move. Beginning a healthy alternative. Signing up for a club. Registering for the new class. Trying a new program.
I have been inspired lately by my seven-year-old boy, David.
Two weeks ago he could barely swim from one end of the pool to the other. After some nudging on my part, he agreed to be on the swim team.
I watched him closely at that first practice, which must have felt incredibly scary. Not only was the water frigid, the other seven-year-olds all seemed a bit more advanced–they knew how to breathe correctly and float on their backs. Some even knew how to dive.
But David didn’t give up. He followed the other guys to the end of the pool, imitating them. And when the coach asked if anyone didn’t know how to do backstroke, he didn’t freak as I remembering doing as a kid. He simply learned it on the spot.
Guess what? He won first place in his heat for a freestyle race, and he competed in a backstroke event! Now he has a new love … swimming, and his excitement is palpable.
Observing David try something new–seeing him go way out of his comfort zone–has inspired me to do the same. I researched some Master’s swimming programs, and showed up for my first practice last Sunday.
That morning I felt like a nervous kid on her first day of school. I had no idea which lane to hop in, or how I was supposed to time myself, or the right way to do some of the drills. But despite some confusion, I did find my groove halfway through, and was glad I had taken the risk.
Boredom gives us the opportunity to stretch ourselves, to motivate us to grow in surprising ways, and, as the DailyOm meditation said, “to harness the boundless creative energy within.”
So that the same energy doesn’t end up in distraction and addiction.