By Tom O'Malley
Boredom has a bad reputation. It is the unwelcome guest who shows up at your door at just the wrong time. It spoils the party and leaves a mess. No thank-yous offered. No warm goodbyes.
And yet I have come to occasionally welcome the vagrant boredom as a breath of fresh air that cools the heat on an otherwise busy life.
Originally, the word boredom was related to digging. One bores into the earth to plant flowers, craft a basement or dig a grave. Perhaps being bored can leave a sort of metaphysical hole in our lives that can be difficult to fill. It can arise from inaction until it grows like a deep-rooted plant or sinks like a leaded anchor that threatens to overwhelm a wave weary ship.
Boredom escorts a large family of human miseries that can produce a dark temperament and a melancholy soul.
Today, boredom has expanded to include a galactic-sized compendium of alternate meanings and inferences. When I hear a student say that a book is boring it might really mean he or she just does not understand it. School can be boring when you can’t look at your cellphone for the next hour.
A game is boring because you are losing. This leads me to think that perhaps boredom is a modern myth developed to steal many of the beautiful hours of our lives right from our fingertips.
Creativity is the enemy of boredom. It is the gift of childhood too often packed away in the service of maturity.
Often we think only a lucky few can be creative, but the truth is we are all equipped with plenty of useful tools to put that dreaded visitor to flight. The fact is that boredom shows up in many aspects of our lives, and we ignore it at our peril.
Routine is the friend of boredom. It is easy to fall into ruts, and when that happens we become blind to nature, friendships and opportunities that are right in front of us. Life requires us to sometimes change our point of view. Even better, try to see someone else’s viewpoint.
Reading a good book is a convenient way to do this. A skillful reader doesn’t just see words, but can become a character in a novel. This helps us to see, truly see the world from different perspectives. Step over the ruts.
Talk a walk – without the headphones. Walking is the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the unique qualities of each day. Henry David Thoreau called this kind of walking “sauntering.” He explains that the etymology of saunter can be loosely translated as a sort of journey to a holy land.
Indeed, walking has a spiritual quality. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the music of church bells. Feel the wind’s fingers brush across your face. At night, count the stars. Even in the city one can easily pick out familiar constellations like the Big Dipper or Orion’s belt. Moreover, the city’s light can’t obscure the dark spots on the moon, or the the lunar light gives our surroundings a special glow.
Instead of opening the door to boredom, keep your eyes open. Keep your hearts open. Then your mind will be open. Boredom may fight long and hard to blind us to the amazing experiences right before our eyes. There is no time for boredom. Just let it slip away into the long sleep of oblivion, never to trouble us again.
Tom O’Malley of Buffalo, is an English teacher at St. Francis High School and Canisius College, and a creative writing specialist.