Many of the heavyweights who have written knowledgably about boredom have seen it as negative, perhaps akin to depression, certainly related to the inevitable restlessness we all experience. I have written about it as a fear of running out of things to do.
Andreas Elpidorou, writing in Aeon, suggests the positive benefits of boredom: it alerts us to the need to be creative, to break out of the unfulfilling activity we are engaged in.
First, he says, not everyone who experiences boredom, which is to say nearly everyone at some time, is prone to ongoing boredom, a more serious issue (depression, I assume, though he doesn't use that word). If a sensation of pain alerts us to a problem in our bodies, then the feeling of boredom is a signal that we are pursuing the wrong thing for us spiritually; we are being prompted to find something else to do.
In a popular culture where distractions abound, that should not be hard. In fact, the culture of 24/7 entertainment functions as a kind of narcotic, writes Ron Rolheiser. Of course, as he points out, we often need a palliative from pain, so we turn to music or movies or games to protect us from feeling hurt. But, Rolheiser says, too often this narcotic becomes a way of escaping the reality of our inner lives.
In a world of instant communication, in cities where restaurants and clubs are open around the clock to please us, we can be amused, distracted, and catered to any time of the day or night. Our TVs contain hundreds of channels, and iPods give us access to vast libraries of music. But are we happy? Do we not still remain bored, restless?
Some say our popular culture is giving us a permanent attention deficit disorder: we pay attention to so many things that we aren't giving real attention to anything that matters. We are so busy being distracted that we seldom find opportunities to feel deeply our connection with others.
It takes a serious illness or death in the family sometimes for some people to start paying attention to what's going on inside them, to reflect on the meaning of life. All the stimulation and entertainment in the world can't help us live in peace with ourselves and those who love us.
In other words, the soul needs attention. As Rumi wrote, we rush from room to room desperately searching for the necklace that's around our neck.
So when I feel restless or bored with the same routine of humdrum activities, I must remind myself that, instead of turning to the media, I can turn inward. I can find within myself, through solitude and silence, an essential link to what some call God, others call the essential reality of the now.