Boredom in Life

Listening to John Cage’s 4’33”

“An empty mind is Devil’s workshop”- many of us perhaps grew up with this dictum. The emphasis hence to stay busy and “not be bored”. Being bored for many is “being slothful”.

Is that so? If so – let’s examine what is boredom and the causes of boredom?

Leo Tolstoy called it “a desire for desires”. Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, thought “boredom is the root of all evil-despairing refusal to be oneself”. He might have even said that Gods created human beings out of sheer boredom!

Let’s examine it at more mundane level.

What causes boredom?

Could we say it’s “lack of stimulation”? if we turn it around and examine what happens when there is lack of stimulation say depriving “the urbanite” of their smart phones and” TikTok/ Instagram/ Twitter/ Snapchat and you would know. If you want to be cruel then deprive him of TV, music, coffee, coke -you could see boredom in a “physical form”. Some others resort to drugs, gambling, and other kinds of stimulations to keep boredom at bay. All said and done, there is a limit to which the brain can be stimulated, after which it has to “descend into torpor”. That’s the nature of the beast, so to say. The “crash” cocaine bingers experience, wherein no amount of cocaine gives them pleasure is intriguing, and the answer lies in the neurochemistry. As it happens, the brain has exhausted all its stores of “pleasure elixir” technically known as “dopamine”.

Psychological cause of boredom, is perhaps, a mismatch between the subject’s expectation, and what is available for such stimulation. For example, if you go to a talk or show , for knowledge or entertainment ,and the host or performers don’t come up to your expectations – you would be bored in all probability.

The above examples pertain to “ordinary boredom”

Then there is “existential boredom” which afflicts “chosen few” like the protagonist in Sartre’s novel “nausea”. That kind of boredom is malignant and very hard to deal with. The Zen masters have prescribed a “twisted remedy” for such boredom- “if something bores you in two minutes- do it for four minutes and if that doesn’t work for eight – sixteen and so on and you shall find it ceases to be boring”.

Between these two poles -there are “51 shades of boredom”!

We all know what boredom does to us in causing discomfort- is there any payoff for being bored? Yes, there is but only “if it doesn’t kill you” which reminds me of a song by Kelly Clarkson “what doesn’t kill you, make you stronger”. Surviving boredom may open the gates of “creativity”. Who knows the prehistoric man who invented “the wheel” was simply” bored”?

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