When was the last time you were bored? Seriously, mind-numbingly bored. With the endless rabbit holes the internet provides or Netflixing until your eyes go blurry - it's rare for many to find that space and time to do absolutely nothing.
While the virtues of boredom are long-standing within the arts, they bear more relevance than ever today regarding knowledge work. Daily slogging with information overload is not only cognitively draining, it demands regular refueling. And slacking off, it turns out, is one of the sure fire ways to sharpen your mind as well as nourish your soul.
Deliberately On and Off
In an intimate 1974 interview Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance remarked:
“I deliberately enter a period of boredom just prior to writing…because ultimately it brings me down to the centre of things from which all creativity comes.”
What's important is that when you embark on creative pursuits -; you avoid incessant hours of toil. It's just as important to ensure you properly switch off just as you do switch on. Funnily, as much as we all know this - seldom do we heed the wisdom.
Alex Pang, author of Rest explains that, “Even in today’s 24/7, always-on world, we can blend work and rest together in ways that make us smarter, more creative, and happier.” The trick is to earmark time for doing nothing. This can be a designated period each day, or if it suits better, unplugging one day a week. No need to go overboard, everything in moderation. The last thing you'd want is for your life to be one reoccurring Seinfeld episode.
Walking into the Abyss
Some prefer the gaping void that walking yields. Aristotle loved waking. So did Charles Darwin. Poet and Novelist Helen Dunmore declared long walks as the best means for crystalizing ideas and for writing fiction.
Like meditation, one of the main reasons walking is so powerful is it melts the world away so your thoughts fade into the distance. You are stripped to your core self, and can just be. When you do return to your work not only have you prepared your mind for new ways of thinking, your behavior syncs with this fresh perspective. Powerful stuff if you are able to make it a ritual.
States of Nothingness
We all have cognitive biases - lots of them actually. We’re informed by the world we see around us, through social cues, by professional standards, and a tireless media. So turning off and welcoming a state of nothingness can be a great way to reset. Author and poet, Gertrude Stein was a fan:
“It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”
Inducing a pure state boredom can lead to choiceless awareness. Conceived somewhere between philosophy, psychology, and spirituality - this type of heightened awareness means you see the present moment without preference, effort, or compulsion. Your state of mind is not premeditated so your biases can be checked at the door and you can make more rational and better decisions.
So the next time you have the opportunity to reach for the magic rectangle in your pocket or purse -; consider mastering the skill of staring into nothingness. Breathe in deep, and draw in that blissful state of boredom.