I’m the chairman of the bored.
I bore myself to sleep at night
I bore myself in broad daylight.
Thus wrote the great Iggy Pop, summing up the malaise of punk in the late 70s, intent on rebelling against anything vaguely establishment.
These days I wonder if young people actually know what boredom is. Oh, they still say, ‘I’m bored!’, but they aren’t. They don’t know the meaning of the word. They don’t know the crushing boredom of a wet Sunday afternoon in the early 70s. Nothing on TV (literally nothing, as the TV turned off at lunchtime, just the test card until tea time), no computer or mobile to text a friend.
Even going out was boring. There was nothing in Chichester for a growing lad. The swimming pool, (now Carluccios) the cinema, (now Next) but you needed money for these things. There was my bike, the countryside, the woods… and that was it.
Of course, Things have changed for the better for our young people. There is so much more for them to get involved with, and families these days are much more conscious of the need for family time to be for all. No-one these days would leave their children in the car with a bag of crisps and a bottle of coke whilst they went to the pub, but in the 70s they did, and it was OK (kind of)!
Modern humans spend virtually no time on inward-directed thought, and not solely because we’re too busy: in one US survey, 95% of adults said they’d found time for a leisure activity in the previous 24 hours, but 83% said they’d spent zero time just thinking. In further experiments, older people, and those who rarely used smartphones, got similar results. Meanwhile, those given the chance to do something outward-directed, such as reading, enjoyed it far more. And when 42 people got to choose between sitting doing nothing and giving themselves electric shocks, two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose the latter!
We often speak of emails, tweets and texts as if they’re annoyances that we’d eliminate if we could. Yet the truth, of course, is that half the time we’re desperate to be distracted, and gladly embrace the interruption.
If I sound like a moany old wot not, it is only because I genuinely think that we are missing out on something. Being bored is not a waste of time, it is a doorway. Having nothing to do is not a failure, it is an opportunity to be creative.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Blaise Pascal wrote this in his theological and philosophical collection Pensées (literally thoughts) not in the 1970s but in the 17th century. If only we could find the time to be bored, to be still, who knows where humanity could go. Who knows where the journey to the inward mind could take us.
Of course, many of us Christians already feel guilty that we don’t spend enough time being still in prayer, and now I am suggesting you find time to do nothing at all. ‘Chance would be a fine thing,’ I can almost hear you saying. I suppose what I am getting at is that the nothing, the empty room, the boredom is merely the portal for thinking, thoughts, the inner journey, the place where ideas are given life, where fantasies are enjoyed and savoured, where we discover ourselves and our souls most fully, and, I would suggest, where we may most easily hear the still small voice of God.
I was so delighted when Mother Theresa was canonised recently. I read a mantra that she used often used to repeat…
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
Go home, switch of the television set and do something boring. Stare at the wall and think. It is the path to peace.
P.S. In case this is just too boring, why not watch Iggy Pop here…