I want my children to experience good old-fashioned boredom because I do not want them to be on the run from themselves.
Because, everywhere I look, that is what I see: we are all on the run from stopping – from meeting ourselves – from the discomfort of sitting for a while, slowing down for long enough for the dust of frantic thoughts and Constant Doing, to settle in our minds.
So we get really, really busy. In fact, if you say you haven’t done much when asked, it’s considered a bit odd. It’s much more acceptable to go on about how busy you’ve been – and how stressed you are. That has become our ‘normal’.
And it makes sense that we try to avoid boredom. When it hits, it can be intense: I got quite famous for Actual Boredom Tears that would start to stream down my face during tedious university lectures. I really couldn’t stop them. And they continued during hours spent temping in office jobs too. Sometimes I couldn’t see the words on the pages in front of me because I was so deeply, scarily bored.
But these days I have really good motivation to stay with my boredom rather than on the run from it – and to find ways to stop and be present and not in constant avoidance: because I don’t want to pass this cultural busyness-avoidance-discomfort pattern onto my children.
Because when we become parents, we get concerned about our children’s boredom levels as well as our own. And we think ‘Quick, put the tv on. Send them to a club. Introduce them to a hobby. Make suggestions for games they could play.’ Anything so that they don’t experience the Dreaded Boredom we have spent so much energy avoiding.
But my observation is that, right after I hit a patch of boredom, wondrous and inventive things happen. The point is that boredom isn’t something to be avoided; it is something we need to allow, trust and move towards. I actually see boredom as a landing pad for brilliant ideas and creativity. And this is true for my children too. Their most inventive and engaging games emerge after the biggest boredom complaints.
This may not be new to you as an idea but I am writing this to give people permission (if they need it) to let themselves and their children get plain-and-simple bored. Let yourselves take a break from fast-paced modern life and read books on the sofa, make up songs, play in sand, daydream, watch plants grow very slowly in the garden, lie down and watch the clouds move across the sky. Because the pressure to Do can be great these days. For me this pressure tends to come in the form of what I call The Questions when you are a parent.
Most of us have had some experience of The Questions – they come from all directions. Does your child do ballet? Has he joined a football club? Are you teaching them languages yet? It took me a while to be brave enough to answer these kinds of questions with clarity and confidence. Usually I say something like ‘No, we dance a lot and we sing in other languages because it’s beautiful to hear new sounds and we spend a lot of time in the garden.’ Basically, we do quite a lot of Nothing.
We need to let children meet themselves and be drawn into the slowness of nature’s rhythms and the small things in life. Otherwise we are setting them up to be on the run from Right Now and all the wonders that holds. But to do that, we need to get brave about our own boredom - and not be worried when they discover theirs. Right Now holds everything we need and we can trust that.
Stick + mud = happiness
So the next time you hear the words ‘I’m bored’ – either from your own mind or your child’s – smile and watch with interest - something beautiful will land!