11 Apr Boring as . . .
Today is April 11 which makes it 66 years since the most boring day in history.
In 2010, a computer program called True Knowledge (now part of Amazon Alexa) determined that April 11, 1954, was so dull – according to algorithms that sorted and weighted millions of historical facts by date – that it was the most boring day ever. Most Boring Day Ever. Nanna almost wishes it was her birthday. What a claim to fame.
While the current pandemic ensures no day in 2020 will be dull enough to challenge 11/4/54, Nanna knows several people willing to suggest they have suffered several Most Boring Days Ever in the last few weeks.
Life doesn’t give us much training for boredom anymore. We are entertained as we wait, as we queue, as we commute, walk, run – even long-distance swimmers can listen to audiobooks on their waterproof, in-ear MP3 players. With hundreds of meditation apps, we don’t even get to be bored during meditation! Which, Nanna thinks, almost misses the point.
Our boredom muscles are flaccid with disuse. Socially isolating behind our closed front doors, denied entry to the shuttered theatres, restaurants, cinemas and bars that once filled our leisure hours, our boredom muscles are being put under maximum load with no training. It can leave us sore and cranky.
Of course, we are not talking about doctors and nurses here, or about unemployed workers, out-of-work performing artists of every kind, first responders and postmen, small business owners, teachers, delivery drivers, the sick, their families or any one of the millions who are trying to figure out how to survive this thing. No, the bored are the rest of us who this crisis has left afloat, but without the life rafts of social entertainment and interaction that kept us away from the stark reality of living with ourselves.
Peter Toohey, author of the book Boredom: a Lively History, says Easter church services in his childhood stand out in his memory as occasions of excruciating boredom. And today is Easter Saturday, as well as the anniversary of the world’s most boring day. Perhaps April can apply for the title of most boring month? Toohey says boredom is an emotion triggered by monotony, predictability and confinement, and characterised by a sense of unease or discomfort. Anyone who has spent two weeks quarantined in a single hotel room will know the feeling.
Boredom, however, is also useful. Toohey argues its value is that it motivates us to DO something. But perhaps it has an even greater value when we use it to teach us how to do nothing?
My favourite meditation teacher, David Lipschutz, often said: “Don’t talk to me about boredom. I’m a yogi. I aspire to boredom!” I have harboured a particular affection for boredom ever since I met David. There is a point in meditation when the monotony and predictability of focusing on a mantra or your breathing meets the confined feeling of sitting still, and that’s the point where things begin to get interesting. David taught meditation as a technique of watching your mind. Sit. Breathe. Watch and wait. Wardrobe planning, imaginary conversations, last night’s episode, tonight’s dinner, so much will pass through your mind and your only job is to let it come and let it go. And sit. And breathe. “Boring” will come up. “Bored” will come up. And that’s the time to get curious. Where are those feelings in the body? What qualities do they have? What’s the cause? Why this urge to move right now? What’s so painful about this moment? Why is being here not good enough for me right now?
The trick is to watch without reacting. Rather than engage with reactions, practice being curious and letting stuff go. Boredom passes. Like every other thought and every other feeling. But sitting with the feeling, hanging out with it for a while and not acting on it might turn out to be the most interesting moment in your day.
Both meanings of the verb ‘to bore’ work for meditation. There is to bore as in “to weary by repetition,” which settles the thinking mind into submission so it will go quiet for a bit. Then there is ‘to bore’ as in “to pierce deeply” which is what a still, quiet mind can do: move through the layers of thought and emotion towards quiet clarity. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Anyway, sorry for being boring. I have been told that talking about yoga and meditation is boring. “Oh don’t go all yoga on me,” said a dear friend, who I know will never read this. “I never thought of you as boring,” he said, “and I really don’t want to have to start now.” I learned early in my fascination with yoga that trying to discuss it with someone who does not share that fascination is a dumb idea. As John Updike once said, a healthy adult bore consumes one and a half times their own weight in other people’s patience.
Nanna doesn’t want to pig out on your patience. She has hours of quiet meditation ahead – oh, and Easter eggs to be getting on with.