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Archive for April 2011

The Value of Boredom

 

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in a neighborhood full of friends, in a house full of toys, games and gadgets.  “I’m bored!” comes the complaint from your child.  “Go find something to do” you suggest.  “I can’t!  There’s nothing to do.  I’m bored!”

There he or she is…your child standing before you with this complaint that we’ve all heard before.  What do you do?

 

Most likely you’ve tried rattling off a long list of suggestions of things to do and… most likely every one of them is answered with “I don’t want to do that. That’s boring!” or some variation.  Clearly, the problem is not a lack of things to do.  The issue is one of novelty-seeking; the brain is craving a stimulant of sorts.  All too often our response is to feed this “need” with more and more activity from outside ourselves.  We go to the movies, we buy a new video game. The thrill never lasts.

 

As adults, our search for stimulation and novelty can lead us down some destructive paths.  Impulsively, we spend money, buy a bigger house, get plastic surgery, reach for alcohol, have affairs.  While these things may alleviate boredom for awhile, we all know they do not last and what’s worse—they waste valuable time and resources in our lives and keep us from achieving real happiness.

 

What is the best way to deal with boredom?  I believe the key is to be OK with being bored once in awhile.  Being bored is not an emergency!!  It is not something that we need to go out and fix.  In fact, being bored is a luxury.  If your life is arranged in such a way that you have your basic needs met—you are not, hungry, thirsty, homeless, in fear for your life, in debilitating pain or grief and you can say “I’m bored” then you are doing better than many human beings on this planet who would love to be able to say “I’m bored.”

 

When my kids come to me and say “I’m bored” my response is not to try to fix it, but to tell them “It’s OK to be bored.”  Being bored is a temporary feeling.  As we become better able to tolerate it as such (rather than reacting to it as though it were an emergency), we will find that we respond in more productive ways to boredom.  People who have responded in productive ways to boredom include many notable artists, athletes, musicians, authors, scientists, and inventors.  If they had reacted to their boredom with passive entertainment or self-centered hamster-wheel pursuits we would not have the benefit of their contributions.

 

Boredom is just a pause…a nap for the psyche. When the nap is over you can emerge more refreshed and vitalized than ever before, so learn to appreciate periods of boredom and teach your kids to do the same.

Gardening as a Metphor for Living

 

While pruning my roses and weeding my flower beds yesterday, I returned to a thought I often consider: Gardening is a lot like life.  It’s not an original thought. I’m certainly not the first to notice the metaphor; however, as someone who loves to garden and enjoys metaphors, it’s rich with symbolism.

 

In metaphorical terms, the soil is your psyche. Is yours fertile, dry, crowded, clogged, balanced, acidic, rocky, aerated?  Have you added any amendments to make your soil richer?  In this case, amendments could translate into support systems such as positive relationships, church, activities, continuing education, and attitude to name a few—whatever fortifies you.  The first step is to prepare your soil.

 

Next, what seeds are you planting? Are you investing in thoughts, words and behaviors today that will bring you joy tomorrow?  Are you planting one thing and expecting something else?  As The Fixx so eloquently stated “One Thing Leads to Another.”  If things aren’t going well in your life, trace it back and see if you may have planted something you didn’t want in your garden.  Many times it’s nothing we intentionally planted but rather a weed that started growing without our permission.  Do you continue to let it grow?

 

What is in your life that really doesn’t belong there?  Are there one-sided friendships or relationships that deplete your resources?  A job you don’t enjoy? Unhealthy habits? Unproductive, hurtful thoughts?  Poison ivy is a great metaphor for a particularly noxious presence in your garden. It kills what you do want, it spreads and it can cause great discomfort.  Is there something in your life (or even in your mind) that is literally making you sick?  Maybe it’s time to weed it out!

 

Once we’ve prepared our soil, purposefully planted the seeds we want and have weeded out what doesn’t belong we continue to nurture our gardens.  Nurturing translates into good self-care.   It is the sun, rain, nutrients, and space to grow that we need.  Think about what you do to take good care of yourself.  What brings you joy?  (I’m not advocating a selfish or hedonistic lifestyle. It is my belief that no one will ever be truly happy unless they are contributing to others in some way and living for a larger purpose).

Once our gardens are established, pruning ensures that we are “on- course,” that we are developing in the direction we want to go and that we are fully alive, living in the moment.  As I removed several dead canes and underbrush from my rose bushes, I decided to leave some to support the healthy branches.  In the same way, our past experience is a support to us.  We don’t need to remove every trace of the past.  It can be helpful to occasionally reflect on lessons learned and to be thankful for those things which, although they didn’t work out, turned out to be “blessings in disguise.”  On the other hand, we don’t want our plant so crowded with old, dead growth that it prevents the air from flowing freely or interferes with new growth.  So we are supported by the past, living in the present, and mindful of the future.

 

As gardeners, we don’t invest all this time and care and call it “done.” Gardening is an on-going process, requiring our constant attention.  Yes, it is a lot of work, but as anyone who enjoys gardening can tell you, the payoff is well worth it.