Downtime Abbey: The Beauty of Boredom Part One

boredwallrusI am old enough, at last, to begin to appreciate a few of the harsher truths adulthood thrusts upon us. I have at times craved vegetables, including but not limited to broccoli; I have watched, in puzzlement, an episode or two of the disorienting new generation of cartoons; I have (often around 2:00 pm) found myself completely randy for a nap. The whirligig of time spins us toward incontinence, yes, but it also brings us ever closer to a way to live our lives more deliberately, and in this way I have seen the most powerful revelation that in its way could set us free from a lot of our stresses and woes: boredom is everything.

If I could redact every time I protested a long car ride as a kid and every complaint against the injustice of some rainy day in which I was sentenced to ten hours indoors with no chance of parole, man oh man would I ever. All those beautiful hours to just, I don’t know…to just sit. What a luxury. And, you know, it’s a bummer when something that is quite necessary is forced to become mere luxury. Many of us have moved swiftly from the years of drawling school days to the carefree and nap-centric years at college, and have since found our place in an office or cubicle. One might suspect that the years of cramming knowledge into our little brains would have been the brunt of the mental overloading portion of our lifetime, but I am here today to suggest that maybe it was not.

I know a first world problem when I see one. I am painfully aware of the scent of whine on my breath as I write these words, but I also don’t believe my sense of fatigue from trying to excel at holding fourteen thousand things between our ears between the hours of nine to five, five days in a row is imaginary. Maybe you’ve felt it, too. Maybe you’re feeling it right now, the nagging suspicion that you should be doing something more productive than reading my little blog. I would wager a healthy hypothetical sum that you are probably not thinking about just one or even three things at this moment. And I feel ya, friend. I do.

If I may be inflammatory for but a moment, our culture seems to have declared a War on Leisure. (I wish it didn’t feel so good to be inflammatory.) Another aspect of getting a little older is watching with alarm how many times my friends make facebook posts about being productive. And these posts are often, even almost always, celebratory. We’re being told to feel good about multitasking. Heck, it’s listed on almost every job posting under the qualities an ideal candidate must wield. The more you can bravely take onto your metaphorical plate, the better. And the buffet of tasks is of Vegasine proportions.

It’s war. And who are the casualties? Our daydreams, our mullings, our random creative connections that could solve legitimate problems. This problem is especially dear to me, probably, because introverts require down time in order to function well, but I think all the extraverts could stand some idle time, too. We all could use a lot more time to do a lot less.

There are lots of unflattering sayings about idleness. While an idle brain may be the devil’s playground, he’s not the only one goofing around on the monkey bars. And before I get any further, it should be noted that the Idle Brain itself is really a myth–our resting brains fire off quite actively, and quite differently than an “engaged” mind. A relaxing mind begins to take inventory, and it has a lot of archives to go through. Tune out, turn off, and drop in might be best advice one could give someone trying to solve a complex problem or task. Albert and Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton famously leapt to incredible places while far from the throes of what would appear to be hard work–by giving their mind a little breathing room, they could let the important stuff sink in. And sank it did, and to great depths.

You may have guessed that I enjoy spending a lot of my time using words, and inventing worlds and populating them with invented people with invented solutions to invented obstacles. One of the most important steps in my writing process is not spent bent over a keyboard at all–it’s spent staring out a window, or at a body of water, or at nothing in particular because I’m not really even looking at this world for that moment. Without that allowance of time to meander, to drift, I am almost useless to a page. What’s even more important, is the inconvenient fact that, without it, I am also almost useless to other people.

I’ve been forced, sometimes, to go long stretches without it. I’ve been asked to remember a dozen details, I’ve tried to hold three conversations at once. Multitasking might come naturally to some of you, and I do not have my doubts that you will be the ones selected for survival if our culture keeps its course. And I fear it might. But I am never far from my stash of hope, and my hope is this: society will slacken, and forgive us if we seem to drift off for a while. Because when we come back, we will be more tuned in, more turned on, and less likely to drop out than ever before.

Next time, I’ll tell you how I think we can start this revolution.

Viva la boredom.