Friday, February 3, 2012

Boredom

     I have children. Every parent has heard from their children at some point the lament "I'm bored".  When I hear it, which is I am glad to say not often, I think 'What do you mean?  How can you possibly be bored when you are surrounded by toys, books, games, the backyard, bicycles, etc.?'  But in my kid's defense, I think I do understand what their problem is. It seems to me that the heart of the matter is the multiplicity of choices. 
Merriam-Webster defines boredom as "the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest." Could it be that when we are bored it is because we are drawn in too many directions and lack the wherewithal to focus our attention on any one of them? 
     I learned an interesting term from reading about the Desert Fathers, the monks of the 4th/5th centuries who retreated into the desert to focus their attention on God. The term is 'Acedia', which is from the Greek and is sometimes translated as boredom. Acedia is the inability to be in the moment. The one who suffers from acedia is physically one place and mentally another. If this can happen to a monk sitting alone on a deserted hillside, is it any surprise that it happens to us in our busy crowded lives?  It should be surprising that it doesn't happen more often.
     More is not always better, sometimes it's just . . . more. A corollary to Murphy's Law state that "90 % of everything is crud." I have yet to see any proof that Murphy was wrong about that one. Most of the choices that crowd around us and demand our fractured attention are, quite simply, not worth it. Is that TV show really that meaningful?  Is there some great political or moral consequence of the outcome of that sporting event?  What does it really matter what this or that celebrity said or did yesterday? [Don't get me started on celebrities - people who are famous for being well-known, as it has been said]. Will you be a better person for having played Angry Birds for an hour? Does your life depend on reading someone's Twitter post or Facebook page, or answering/sending one more text message?  [Or for that matter, reading this blog?]
     May I suggest that you try an experiment - see how long you can sit in one place, quietly, and without any visual or audio media that you have the power to shut off. Just concentrate on being aware of where you are. Then ask yourself why you could only sit still for that long.
       I am not suggesting that this is a fast-track to inner peace. It's just an idea about becoming more aware of your own behavior and trying to understand why you act the way you do.

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