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Not what you thought
Funny, I should write a post about being too busy on a week I was way too busy… Actually, two weeks. So, that’s what happened to me. I failed to do my writing, and I feel a bit like a hypocrite right now. I humbly apologize. But I was doing something that mattered. I was diligently preparing for a battle with the evil landlord who stole my money. This was a noble cause because she’d done it before to other tenants… that got postponed by the judge until the 24th of April.
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I used to fear boredom. I imagined a time and a place with nothing to do. I can’t say for certain, but this might be why I constantly kept busy. One thing I know, though, is what I like to be busy with has changed over time. Not all busy is created equal, I say. Too many people do stupid things just to avoid feeling bored. They get into bad relationships, drink too much, and waste time on things that don’t matter.
First, I realized that fearing boredom was the wrong emotion altogether. Boredom is not scary. It’s an opportunity. It’s time and space for something to emerge. That’s right. Emerging things, it turns out, are very cool. I don’t always have to make things happen. I can also sit and enjoy what is happening. But this means I have to check my expectations for that particular time and place. Expecting things, working on things, and making things happen are my favorite occupations. But seriously, that’s just one way of experiencing life and the world around me.
Remember the saying, “You can’t hear what others are saying if you constantly talk?” In the same way, I realized I couldn’t experience life as it is if I constantly tried to manipulate reality around me. That’s what we do. We manipulate reality. Our actions, intentions, conversations, and interactions are all forms of manipulating reality. If reality is that your fridge is empty, you manipulate it by going to the store and restocking the fridge. Now you don’t have to worry about dying of hunger any time soon.
I am not saying it’s wrong to manipulate reality. You would like it better if I call it “manifesting” or “shaping” it. But call it what it is. Actions produce reactions and have consequences. There you have it. You manipulated reality. Your bank account is full or empty. Did you go to work or the casino?
You have agency. Agents create connections where none existed before. Good connections make people famous, rich, and even happy. Bad connections shortcircuit your existence. Either way, reality is not going back to how it used to be before said connections were made. No one and nothing will ever be the same. That’s why the Chinese say, “You can’t step in the same river twice.”
We think of boredom as where agents go to die. Yeah, of course, that’s wrong. In our agency, we choose to look at something or someone as “boring.” But nothing is inherently boring. Only our perception can make it so.
Things we perceive as boring: places, times, good guys or gals, jobs, movies, family dinners, etc.
Things we perceive as not boring: places, times, good guys or gals, jobs, movies, dinners, etc.
That’s how it works. Boredom is in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps, we just need to have our vision checked.
Agents with vision strategize. They stay alert to opportunities, put themselves out there, and make themselves available. They don’t just do things. They do the right things because they know the opportunity cost of being busy with the wrong things. Like when you feel bored alone and get into a relationship with someone who doesn’t suit you, but then the right person comes around, and you are no longer available. Oh, what a bummer. But chances are, you won’t even know the right person came and went. You’ll be busy with the drama of the relationship you are in. But at least you won’t be bored. Bad agent you!
Imagine the difference if you took the “boring” time you so despise, and instead of looking for things to do someplace, you did things inside yourself like introspection, healing, and learning. There’s enough baggage in everyone’s past to keep them occupied for decades. So how can anyone be bored?
Is our conditioning to seek instant gratification and external stimulation turning idle, alone, quiet time into boring time? Calm people into boring people? Simple things into boring things?
Or is it a lack of imagination? Perhaps, we don’t ask the right questions. Questions arise from curiosity. They stir things up and lead to discoveries, innovation, and a jolly good time. Or you may get slapped in the face. Either way, you won’t be bored!
Perhaps, we are not curious enough or interested enough. We live in a very individualistic and highly narcissistic culture. Perhaps, we are more interested in showing ourselves and our lives to others than genuinely caring about them. When we all talk at each other, we don’t connect with one another.
Perhaps the fear of missing out makes us go faster, do more, and achieve more, but it also makes us overlook things that don’t immediately grab us, are not flashy enough, and don’t overpromise. It’s like we want to live fast and furious but somehow make life last longer. Feeling bored makes time feel slow. But the slower life moves, the longer it feels. Can we really go fast and make life feel long?
Many of us live highly active, busy, and consumptive lives. Of course, this is not inherently good or bad. But each one of us must know what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what is right for us to do. Henry David Thoreau wrote,
“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. ”
Paradoxically, to know what we are doing, why we are doing it, to simplify, and to find that sweet spot of living in fullness, is to allow boredom. We need idle time to reflect on what is important to us and to focus on doing just that.
What is left to do when you don’t book yourself solid? When your phone is switched off, your desk cleared, and the internet is down, what would you do? Will you finally sit down to write that book? Or go look at the night sky with a map of constellations? Will you enjoy a quiet night with a special someone? Will you read a book? Learn how to watercolor? When you feel bored with nothing to do, what is left to do are the things that really matter to you.
And an old TEDx video, kind of about that too.
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