How Boredom Helped Me Grow



Getting sick and being forced to slow down, and eventually stop, has been the greatest gift of my life.

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Andrea True Connection, More More More, Buddah Records (1976) 


Once in a while, I have a sense of guilt or other mis-directed ill-ease when all I want to do is write and read and play with my animals, hang out with my husband, walk our country road, and watch old movies and quality British television. The feelings come from my old identity, the one with activities and commitments scheduled for every waking hour, making a last sputtering attempt to assert itself. But it is, nevertheless, dying. I think I’ve believed that when I’m well (I’ve been dealing with an autoimmune disorder, among other things) I’ll automatically be more social and do more things. But I’m beginning to wonder. This past week, I hit my maximum limit for outings with one day in the city to pick up my new reading glasses and get a haircut, and one social day at a family gathering. And while I enjoyed both days, reuniting with relatives and meeting new people, I have so much peace and joy in hanging out at home. It seems I am shedding an old skin.


It feels almost confessional to say, but I think I simply like this simple life. Some part of me thinks I should want more — more stimulation, more glamour, more people, more so-called success, more stuff. And it’s not that I wouldn’t like more of certain things (especially energy) but that I feel content with what I’ve got. My seclusion started out as a kind of forced existence, not being able to socialize and participate in “life”. And then, because I couldn’t work, not being able to afford to do so. My racing mind resisted the experience, and couldn’t ever imagine any interest in inactivity and stillness. This seemed an existence absent of content, and therefore a kind of waking death. For years, I used to quote Isabelle Allende. “Boredom is just anger without passion.” I felt a certain moral superiority in never being bored. But I now see the difference between racing through life in an avoidance of boredom, and facing life — including all of its uncomfortable, unpleasant, and confronting pockets of silence — and having boredom disappear. Outrunning boredom is not the same as eliminating it. 


When I would stop running, even for a moment, there was only dis-quiet and agitation. An awkward and self-conscious experience of facing myself and not recognizing the whole of who I was. Like looking into a mirror and seeing an unfamiliar face, or even an unexpected expression. I didn’t want to confront those unknowns, but I didn’t want to look away. It was both mesmerizing and terrifying. For most of us, this is when the reptilian brain kicks into fight, flight, or freeze. My own modus operandi is usually to fight. I’ve fought my fears and insecurities and sensitivities and pain. I fought my own darkness in an ineffective attempt to gloss over, change, or suppress the parts of myself I didn’t like or want to acknowledge. I fought them until my body took over and created anti-bodies to do the job for me. And fighting is not the same as facing. 


In the solitude of my life, I face it all. As it turns out, my bogeymen are not nearly as bad as I had imagined. In facing them, in being quiet with all my quirks and quarks, the demons show themselves as the illusions that they are. My darkness is not some childhood monster to avoid. It is the completion and wholeness of who I am. I do not believe in fighting any more, because fighting gives strength and energy to that which is opposed. It energizes and fuels the so-called enemy. Avoiding facing our fears is the dark side of positivity. The unwillingness to look at what’s so in favour of focusing only on the light. The sweeping of all things negative under a proverbial carpet, where it festers and grows and seeps toxins into the environment that go unseen and unchecked. And we wonder why, the more we try, the more we feel inadequate — mentally, emotionally, physically, or financially. In my case, all of the above. I kept running and trying harder, wearing myself out and wearing my “self” down. Until I had to stop. 


When I think of Isabelle Allende now, I wonder if I ever really understood the significance of her words. Rather than a call to live a life without boredom, maybe the real message was to allow myself to be bored — even just long enough to see what anger was lurking below the surface, growing aggravated and unexpressed. To uncover what riles me enough to give my life to a passionate purpose. I have discovered access to my humanity through all my so-called negative emotions. They are rich reservoirs of insight and possibility. And rather than bringing me down, they give me freedom and lift me up. Rather than separating me from those who suffer, they give me compassion. All positivity ever did was continue to raise a bar so high that I was either moving further away from empathy with others or flailing and hurling down to earth. It is paradoxical, (and regular readers know how much I love paradox) but in embracing the darkest of my emotions, I find peace and happiness. There is nothing to avoid and nothing to fear in my comfortable skin, with my feet firmly planted on the ground. Even if that sounds boring.


From A Run In My Stocking: Confessions Of A Recovering Perfectionist

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