My senior year of college I lived with three of my good friends in an old house in Albany, NY. The three of them had bedrooms upstairs and mine was downstairs. One day, I walked out of my room and saw one of my roommates sitting on a burgundy loveseat we called the “murder chair” because of its crimson hue.
“What are you doing?” I asked him. The television was off. There was no music playing. He wasn’t using his phone or reading a book.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Are you waiting for someone?” I asked.
“Nope. I’m just sitting here,” he responded.
I could feel my mind expanding. In all my years of life I had never seen someone sitting in a living room not doing anything. I had seen people sitting at a park, but then you had nature to look at. I understood that. I did not understand this act of quasi-meditation.
All I could think about was how bored I would be if I just sat in a chair not doing anything. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the genius of what he was doing.
As my 20s progressed, I learned more about the benefits of meditation and took an interest in developing a practice. Since then I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with meditation. Beyond meditation, however, I’ve learned how powerful boredom can be in the path to introspection.
Author Cal Newport explores the power of being comfortable with boredom in his book Deep Work:
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.
Doing cognitively demanding work for sustained periods of time is partly an act of engineering (e.g., silencing your phone), but is mostly a practice of being comfortable not having novel stimuli drive your next thought.
In the last few weeks I’ve been working on being bored. It’s way harder than it sounds.