Boredom as discipline (a follow-up)

Last week I wrote a post about Manoush Zomorodi’s book, Bored and Brilliant and the value of letting our minds wander in as undistracted an environment as we can regularly manage. (Again: it’s a great book and you should read it.) Since that post was closing in on two thousand words I thought I had better stop writing and publish it, but I hadn’t actually yet run out of things it prompted me to think about. So, here are some further things I’ve been gnawing on.

This book actually meshes well — strange as this may seem — with something I read last month, Sara Hagerty’s Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed. Since I read Unseen I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live a “hidden” life, especially in regard to Biblical language around being “hidden in God” or “hidden in Christ”. What does it mean to be hidden in God? How do we cultivate that private, inner life? I’ve been mulling this over with some of my friends (hi, Heather) via email. Hagerty’s whole thing is taking those moments of our days where our instincts are to distract ourselves, or bury our emotions, or vent to friends, and instead use them as prompts to turn toward God in prayer — particularly when we are angry, hurt, etc., but really (ideally) all of the time. It’s like being a tree — we see the trunk and the limbs above the ground, but in reality the great strength of the tree is in the root system, hidden from view. The inner life of relationship with God, hidden from others, is our root system, and it’s what our flourishing depends on.

How does that mesh with what Zomorodi is talking about it? I have no idea if she is religious or not, but that’s beside the point perhaps. What stands out to me in this context is not something from the book, but an anecdote she related in her interview on the Team Human podcast. Zomorodi takes her show on the road to college campuses, and one of the exercises she has students do is to take a piece of paper and write something down on it — just a thought, not necessarily anything weighty. But then their instruction is to tear the piece of paper up and never tell her, or anyone else, what was written on it. And she’s found that students are aghast, they find it really difficult to do, because we are so primed by our natural drive for connection with others and by the techno-social forces driving our world right now, that it seems completely bizarre to have a thought and not immediately share it. Zomorodi is concerned about privacy in the sense that we often think of — stopping websites from tracking our data, etc. — but also in terms of privacy of thought, being not only able but willing to keep things to ourselves, even to take pleasure in that. Is that a skill that is disappearing? It seems to me that maybe it is.

So here’s the intersection of hiddenness and boredom/stillness and the delight of not saying it all: the secret place of prayer. Our days are filled with all these little cracks of time — waiting in line, pausing between activities, settling down before bed, taking a tea break — and we so easily reach for things to fill them: to books, to our phones, to the internet perhaps above all. (Quick, internet! Amuse me!) Zomorodi reminds us that those cracks are where, if we surrender to “doing nothing”, our brains find their most creative space. Hagerty reminds us that those moments are where, if we surrender to “doing nothing”, our hearts find their rest in God. If we never allow ourselves to be bored, to be un-distracted, to be still — we lose not only those chances at productive creativity, but we lose those chances to reorient our souls, to go to the hidden places with the Lord. We lose our roots.

I have been trying to leave myself more cracks in my day… with varying levels of success. It seems to depend a lot on how well I’ve been sleeping, actually. If I’m overtired, all I want is the self-soothing ritual of a blog post (or a dozen) to read or a game of scrabble against the computer. But I am trying — to learn to do this, to discipline my mind, to learn to want to do this more than I want other things.

I feel like this post isn’t quite fully formed — well, my thoughts on this are still not quite fully formed. But I wanted to put it out there anyway, and invite you to mull with me. What does it mean to cultivate a hidden life? To hide yourself in God? What do you do with your cracks?

One thought on “Boredom as discipline (a follow-up)

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I did think about your post on the other book when you first posted about this one. I have noticed in myself that the initial feeling of boredom is almost like pain. That’s my explanation anyway of why it’s harder when tired, which I agree with. But then the more miserable I am the quicker I turn to God. Usually. But I do have to get off my phone first.

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