On boredom and the radical act of doing nothing

August 17, 2012   |   21 Comments  |   FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites

Eventually, almost all meditators run into the same problem: boredom. Boredom usually arises in one of two ways—as a constant sense of sleepiness or as a kind of free floating anxiety and agitation.

Yes, agitation. I would like to tell you right now that you do not have ADD. If I had a dollar for everyone who said to me that they had ADD, I would be a rich woman indeed. I’m not trying to dis anyone who has actually been diagnosed and is benefitting from medication. More power to you for defining and treating the problem. But most people who have self-diagnosed as ADD sufferers are actually suffering from something far more insidious: boredom masquerading as anxiety.

To explore this a bit more deeply, review this checklist and see if any of the following apply to you:

• If you accidentally leave your smartphone at home, you panic.
• Every time you stop at a red light, stand in line at the bank, or wait for an appointment, you compulsively check email, Twitter, FB and so on.
• You finish one task and immediately line up the next one.
• Not having an overwhelming amount of things to do is anxiety producing.
• The idea of spending time alone is frightening.
• The idea of spending time alone with no smartphone, online access, or television is unthinkable.
• You actually believe that there is no possible way to take a day—much less a week—off. Everything would fall apart. You simply have too much to do.

We are all struggling to manage so many inputs on a daily basis. We (myself included, certainly) have become addicted to input and when it is removed, rather than feeling, “phew, a minute to relax,” we become quite agitated. So of course when we sit to meditate, that agitation makes itself felt. In truth, though, we are bored because there is nothing external for our minds to chew on.

We are perpetually engaged in a choice between two minds states: we are either bored or entertained. And like a strained muscle that has “forgotten” how to relax, we have forgotten how to relax our minds into a state that is neither bored nor entertained. Meditation reintroduces us to what it means to actually rest our minds in a state of openness, simply at ease.

But don’t take my word for any of this! Instead, practice and see for yourself what is true.

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  • Posted by:  Wendy Elizabeth Langmuir Baks

    What I find joy in are those moments …. it is a pause — choiceless
    when you are ringing up at the cash — there is a built in moment when the world stops and there is absolutely nothing to do — very sweet .. Kind of a primer…. Enjoy your day each and all…..

    • Posted by:  susan

      You are so welcome and I appreciate you too.

    • Posted by:  susan

      you too…

  • Posted by:  Larry

    Thank you Susan,
    I appreciate you

  • Posted by:  Lisa Morris

    Love it . . . And you would be a very rich lady if you collected on that premise about ADD. The downside to technology and social media is we become where we crave and seek out the ongoing stimulation that is ever present and at our fingertips. I think some of the research being done is showing that we are overstimulated by our technology. Remember the days when there were only about 4 television stations, before the days of cable, Sirius radio, streaming and beaming. We live in a culture that is anything but peaceful so ,I believe, we have to be ever mindful of all of this…these competing forces. Wow didn’t mean to go into this whole dialogue :). Anyway, I miss you so we need to connect…oh and that is the upside…we can Skype or facetime

    • Posted by:  susan

      Love your dialogs, as always. And let’s use that technology to connect!! Miss you too. Skype? Next week? EM me. xo S

  • Posted by:  ann

    I’ve thought the basis of boredom is fear…fear of nothingness…fear of what i might find underneath the stimulation…fear of really being present with myself…
    what do you think?

    • Posted by:  susan

      I think there is something to that, for sure.

  • Posted by:  Sarah Torres

    Dear Susan, I wrote you an email about feeling discouraged, this video has been very enlightening and it gave me an insight on the importance of letting go the expectations and just find peace with what it is.
    I have never thought of boredom and entretainment as two sides of the same coin. I will surely try to explore in my practice and in daily life that space between both.
    Thank you very much!!

    • Posted by:  susan

      Boredom and entertainment–two sides of the same coin! Perfectly said.

  • Posted by:  Lisa

    Perfect timing. Just telling a client about boredom and how it’s necessary to rest there before jumping into his next biz adventure. And as I read your article, it became clear how I’ve been struggling w it too lately (ok quite a while). It helps me have compassion for it in myself as well after the lightbulb went off…thanks 🙂

    • Posted by:  susan


  • Posted by:  Simon

    It was so funny, as I was watching your first video my phone beeped to say a message had arrived & before I knew it I found myself jumping out of my chair to go and read it! It was more of an unthinking reflex than a conscious reaction. I at first got annoyed at how my mind could completely ignore what you were saying, but then I laughed at how apt it was, then finally I said to myself “the message will still be there in half an hour”. I continued watching and did my 10 minute sitting, but it was amazing how many times my mind reminded me of that message. I guess it’s going to take some time… 🙂 (it also reminded why it’s a good idea to turn off my phone before meditating)

    • Posted by:  susan

      I totally relate!!

  • Posted by:  Simone

    I do recognize the boredom during meditation. I have just started to meditate thanks to your great 10 minute meditations.
    My boredom during meditation is more the fact that I can’t create at that moment, working with fabric, needle and thread. Still learning (:

    • Posted by:  susan

      So glad to know we’re practicing (and learning) together.

      • Posted by:  simone

        Yes! I am very grateful to you for sharing this with us! Isn’t it special, to be able to meditate with you, while I live in the Netherlands.

  • Posted by:  Tracey

    Once again, I find that just when I am contemplating something myself, I come across information that gives me encouragement that I am neither alone, nor contemplating something that is simply ridiculous.
    I have made a number of changes in my life in the past few months, including simplifying my life, reducing possessions, etc. And though I am not “done” making changes, many big ones have been completed. I now find myself experiencing a sense of boredom…now what? There is this strong, underlying sense of “I’ve got to DO something.” So, you are right, Susan, I have forgotten how to relax or just “be.” I’m guessing, in time, I will accept feeling at ease. In the meantime, I feel a little like I am on a caffeine rush and don’t know where to divert my energy. Ha!

    • Posted by:  susan

      This sounds totally recognizable to me! It is amazing how hard it is to DO relaxing and it will be so great to explore what it means to feel at ease. And on good days, caffeine rushes settle into a simple sense of vitality. xo S

  • Posted by:  Day Ravenscroft

    Dear Clear-seeing Susan & honest friends of Susan, you all sound so physically young. Luckily, I grew up in quiet (& safe)places as a very under-scheduled child into a work-life regularly punctuated by long silences even though we might do heavy physical work or get very little time “off.” Now that I walk with difficulty, see poorly, hear less well, I am so lucky because the habit of not doing much is not so difficult to learn. I bless this whole modern meditation gift that will give the young people whom I love, the preparation for living quietly. May peace shower on all of you especially those who care enough to teach… I’m blessed to know several of you.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Day, thank you for this wonderful, wonderful message. It is very loving. So appreciated. xo S

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