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The Medicine of Boredom

I was fairly bored in the beginning of this winter. Of course there’s always something going on and something to be done, as an at-home mother of young, homeschooled children. But internally, energetically, I was bored. I laugh at myself when I think about my attitude toward rest or the need to convalesce for whatever reason — I’m good with it for a half day, and then I’m over it. I spent so much of autumn preparing for winter, the season of rest, and when it finally arrived, I figuratively sat down, looked around, nodded my head, “yes, this is nice,” ….and then my signature, “Okay, I’m done.” after a couple of minutes.

It happens so often, but I often just find familiar entertainment for myself. This time, in the season of focusing inward, the season of boredom, I knew this was something I needed to sit with.

I was told as a child, “boredom is good for you,” and I hated hearing that. I thought, “How is that possible and in what way is it good for me?!” Looking back, though, I notice that, were it not for periodic boredom, I never would have played the piano. Were it not for “nothing to do”, I wouldn’t have gone outside for hours, walking, singing into the sunset, climbing trees, thinking, praying, imagining I was in a fantastical adventure. If I was given a screen, or a gadget, or a sugar pill for every dull moment, I would have completely missed these many opportunities to stretch and grow.

There is medicine in boredom. Not medicine in the western “fix-it” sense, but more like in a Native American traditional view. According to Jean Wolf, “medicine” means: “…the presence and power embodied in or demonstrated by a person, a place, an event, an object, or a natural phenomenon.”

Boredom is fertile ground frozen by the cold of winter. Boredom is alive with potential. It’s creativity yet to be born. Boredom is also, I think, a kind of trial of what is within us. Is there actually creative ability lying dormant? Or, as my husband says, are we “the boring ones”?

What ultimately comes up for me in moments of boredom, when I allow them, is almost always a gateway to investigating new parts of myself. If I were a garden, each plant would represent a topic, a thought, a passion, a plan. The more attention I pay to one of these plants, the larger it grows, the more its roots spread. A moment of boredom would mean I’m finally watering that patch of bare ground over there. I’m finally paring back the overhang of leaves that have been shading that spot all this time. I’m finally looking, noticing…what is that tiny mystery seedling?

I’m sure I’ve heard scientifically-backed arguments in favor of momentary stillness, and it’s definitely something I plan to research further in the future. In the meantime, just from the evidence of my own experiences and the experiences shared by others, I think all of us would benefit from inviting boredom into our lives more often. More moments of silence, of nothing happening, of just staring off into the distance. I wonder what new growth will appear.

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