Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz and published 21 August 2017
Boredom is often cited as the barrier to regular meditation practice but why are we so resistant to the possibility of being bored?
On a biological level, we’re designed to do things to help us survive like find food and shelter and avoid threats. We’re not really programmed to stop and rest for very long so the idea of sitting and breathing just seems wrong.
That might be part of the reason why we’re so compelled to search out stimulation or distractions and in today’s world it’s so much easier to do. However, one of the things that lies at the heart of meditation, or mindfulness practice, is acceptance – and that includes the acceptance of boredom.
Mindfulness writer Ed Halliwell suggests mindfulness as a remedy to boredom in that it encourages us to see boredom not as something to reject but as something to understand. Boredom melts away as we get familiar with it, not by resisting it. If you’re bored by meditation, the answer seems to be to meditate more and explore what lies beyond the boredom.
Halliwell proposes three things we can do to get used to the boredom:
1. Be curious – by changing perspective and approaching feelings of boredom with interest, we step out of boredom. Ask questions about it, pay attention to what’s happening in that moment and find what resides beneath it. Simply paying attention to how we feel and what we’re doing can increase our sense of well-being.
2. Stay with the feeling – when we notice our boredom and can stay with it, it means we’re not looking to be distracted any more. Yes, it’s hard and we might struggle with it but it can help build resilience.
3. Make a change – if the boredom persists it may mean we need more meaning and purpose in our life. Instead of the agitation, restlessness or numbness we usually associate with boredom, there’s a more intense and deep-seated feeling telling us we need change.
Addressing boredom within meditation is difficult and there are many levels to work through. If all this seems too much, there are other ways to be mindful that simply involve being in the moment and limiting distracting thoughts:
- Take a walk, without your headphones and notice your breath, how your body feels and what’s around you.
- Do some sort of slow body movement – yoga, tai chi, stretching – and focus on your breath and movement.
- Choose an activity you like to do and focus on being completely with what you’re doing.
Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting on a mountain for hours, it’s just about drawing attention to yourself in the moment.