Boredom or Suffering

Take your pick. Which one would you rather feel? It has been said that humans must often choose between one or the other as a general rule of their human experience.

One might consider the two to be synonymous; after all, extreme boredom can be a sort of suffering, and the experience of profound pain or distress can start to get a little tiresome, although I have found the latter to be less true. Suffering can be a great distraction and sometimes a little romantic, exciting, and dramatic. Look at the history of the world. The great literature of the world!

If you asked me a few years ago which one I felt more comfortable with, I would have chosen suffering. I liked my suffering. I still like movies and books and shows that break my heart into lots of pieces. I like a good cry. But for me, suffering got old. Hating myself got old. When you’re young and foolish, I think you have to go through that rite of passage – the belief that being a broken, fucked up, great big mess somehow makes you special. Oh, that drama alone can be such a drug. And if you’ve ever watched a movie or listened to music, you know how deep it can all seem. But it’s not, really. You come out of it and you discover, being a helpless and suffering mess is not all it’s cracked up to be. Mad love is not special. Living that way eventually makes you sick and causes harm. I have come to accept, with gratitude, that I will never be seventeen again, or twenty three, chain-smoking and struggling with addiction, boy-crazy and underfed, thinking it meant I was significant. Or, let’s be honest, cool. But I’m glad I went through it – it taught me to be grateful for calm, flat seas. Maybe even boredom.

I don’t want to actually be bored, though, or apathetic, or some immobile sloth. There’s a reason you start to feel terrible after watching a marathon of TV – your brain is craving healthy stimulation. There’s a reason that doing absolutely nothing for days on end (which is so enticing when you are jam-packed busy) starts to feel empty and purposeless. It is why many people think moving to a nearly deserted island would be a dream, only to find it is mind-numbingly dull. Not that we need to do a whole lot. I still subscribe to the unconventional path of doing less; I think pausing, accepting, and surrendering are far better tools than rushing, forcing, and expecting, but I also know that the body is meant to move, the mind meant to learn, the heart and soul meant to heal and grow. We are meant to help ourselves and others to develop and expand. We have to try things and do things in order to have experiences. We are meant to get out into the world, whatever that means for each individual.

If we work for it, we come to rest somewhere in the middle, balanced between boredom and suffering. We find what lies between the two: relative contentment and comfort. We can’t expect to be overjoyed and high all the time, nor should we have to suffer immense pain, anxiety, or grief incessantly. We are meant to live in the middle. Problem is, nobody wants the middle. No one likes to be right sized, hanging out in the gray, non-special.That takes a lot of work and maturity. The Buddhists call it equanimity. Twelve steppers, serenity. Others, being present. Not having expectations. Simply existing. It’s not full of sexy extremes and highs and lows (that’s why no one writes great novels about it.) But I think it’s the way. The easier, softer way. And then, when you do feel the highs and lows, you really feel them, you appreciate them, and you also are quite glad to see them pass.

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