With extra time on my hands I noticed boredom setting in. There are several jobs to do and things I could be getting on with, yet I find myself bored. How can this be? What is it that is creating boredom?
I read about boredom in Pema Chodron’s literature, and she has this to say about it:
Trungpa Rinpoche used to praise boredom in sitting. He said that you have to sit to the point where you’re just bored. You’ve worn out all the entertainment value and you’re just bored. And you have to go through the restlessness of boredom. Because boredom is just another word for this fundamental restlessness–it’s hot, you want to get out of there. And he said you have to sit through with as much loving kindness towards yourself and compassion, relaxation, anything that enables you to kindly and gently and continually stay present. Learning to stay with the boredom. Until, at some point, it shifts to what he called cool boredom, which is that it doesn’t make you want to jump up anymore or fill up the space.
We fill up the space by working, by eating, by addictions of all kinds, by all kinds of activities. And if you don’t believe me, just start paying attention to this tonight when you leave, or even sitting here, or tomorrow during your day, or for every day for the rest of your life. You will notice just a few examples now and then. [Laughter] Then with your speech, it’s the same thing. Yackity, yackity, yack. Filling up the space.
So the practice is learning to relax into the space of nothing happening. In our lives, this is a big motivation. And shenpa springs, definitely, from this karmic wind which we keep… See, you can begin to unwind that karmic wind, but it’s extremely strong. And I use the term unwind, but what I mean is our habitual way of relating, which is moving away with our actions and our speech and our mind, just makes that uneasiness stronger and stronger and stronger.
This underlying sense of threat when nothing is happening gets stronger and stronger, and we fear it more and more and more. The bodhichitta practices, and actually all practices, are about learning to stay with nothing happening, just with a sense of silence, of space, and definitely with uneasiness, with anxiety, and so forth. And we find our way to do so without it being overwhelming. Then something can begin to shift —which Trungpa Rinpoche referred to as cool boredom. The very same nothing happening feels like home-free, feels like freedom, feels like deep, profound, unshakable relaxation, feels like spaciousness— space in our mind, space to sense of workability of our lives.
But we have habituated ourselves to always move away from that nothing happening, and therefore this fear-based karmic momentum which is always driving you to do something —to move, to act— always in the next moment, never present is very, very strong. We’re really talking about cutting suffering at the root. And the root is that you learn to stay present. And in doing so, you’re going to have to contact the unpleasantness, the short-term unpleasantness, of uneasiness, restlessness, feeling of uneasiness, shakiness. Trungpa Rinpoche used the phrase the genuine heart of sadness.
We think happiness is going to come from always leaving that place, that tender, shaky place that we call boredom or fear or anxiety, or whatever we call it, and filling up the space with entertainment, with fun, with movement, with action. And maybe it’s not even fun, but at least at least it fills up the space with worrying, with churning ourselves up, working ourselves up with anger, and so forth.
The basic instruction, in terms of cutting this habituation, or dissolving it, or interrupting —I like to use the word interrupting the habituation— is to notice the shenpa, notice when you’re hooked; then through meditation practice, or whatever helps, to interrupt the momentum so that you don’t go on and on and on creating your own suffering; and then touch the soft spot that’s available to you when you interrupt the momentum of the shenpa.