Friday, November 6, 2009


For the past six weeks, I have been facilitating two groups in a process called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, or MBCT, which is the adaptation of vipassana meditation to help prevent depressive relapse. In the first weeks of introducing the MBCT process to these groups, there inevitably arise comments that indicate a certain level of boredom with the various practices, such as the body scan or the sitting meditations.

I always am a bit perplexed by these reports of boredom. I cannot think of having experienced it very much as an adult, although I'm sure I must have had periods of boredom as a child. For people with a history of depression, however, boredom can be an ugly demon that can suck them into a deep, downward spiral.
When the British actor, George Sanders, committed suicide in 1972, the note he left read, in part, "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored." This from a man who once had seven psychiatrists on his payroll at the same time!

I believe that boredom is the territory we inhabit when the way things are do not match up with the way we want them to be. We would rather be somewhere else, or doing some other thing, or we would rather be with some other person. When we dwell in that discrepency, between the way it is and the way we want it to be, boredom can be one of the feelings that arise.

Boredom can be a hindrance to a meditation practice, as well, whether or not we are susceptible to depression. When one of my teachers was asked what to do about boredom during meditation, he replied, "Be the first yogi to die of boredom. Get to know it intimately." When we look at boredom from this perspective, it can actually become quite interesting. We might even develop a kind of paradoxical perversity of actually looking forward to experiencing boredom in our meditation, so that we can investigate it fully and get to know it minutely.

Great things can come out of boredom, if we open to it, get to know it, and just be with it for a while. Billy Collins, the former Poet Laureate of the United States (2001 - 2003) has said, “What I need to write is boredom. I need stretches of inactivity, of doing nothing in order for the poem to get generated. I think boredom is like the mother of creativity.”

So try getting friendly with your boredom whenever, and wherever, it arises. As my teacher, Phillip Moffitt, likes to say, "Invite it in and serve it tea." Treating it with curiousity is a great way to transform boredom into creative energy.

The Lanyard
by Billy Collins
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

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