Use Silence to Engage Boredom

I check in at the front desk and fill out some paperwork.  “Have a seat Mr. Sphar.”  I sit down in the far corner of the waiting room.  I immediately feel the urge to reach for my phone.  For what?  To check email?  To scan the news?  To browse the internet?  No, those are all just vehicles for what I’m really doing – escaping the feeling of boredom.  That is what my stimulation-craving mind desperately wants to avoid.

I sneak a glance at my phone.  I’m torn.  Should I pick it up, or not?

In our technology-driven culture, our minds have been conditioned to expect a constant stream of activity.  I could say “entertainment,” except the entertainment value of what we view is often quite low.  The real aim of the steady stream is to occupy our attention, to keep it busy.  There is a part of us that welcomes the distraction because we would rather be occupied with anything than contend with boredom.

Using silence to engage boredom may seem counter-intuitive, but silence provides a unique opportunity to see boredom differently and change its effect on us.

Silence is a threshold between two kinds of consciousness.  In ordinary waking consciousness, our minds are absorbed with daily tasks and we use the auto-pilot habits we’ve learned to get things done.  When there is nothing immediate for it to do, the auto-pilot of the mind stays in the “on” position, scanning the horizon for threats and opportunities.  This is why we hear recurring thought-loops in our heads, like a radio that is always playing the same station. 

In ordinary consciousness, the mind is uncomfortable with silence.  It wants to “do” something; it knows there are a million things happening and it doesn’t want to miss out; it’s afraid it will not see a problem in time to avoid it.  This is a consequence of having so much information, opinion and content immediately available at the touch of a button.  Some of it is useful, but a huge portion is pure distraction.

But we can also enter into a wider kind of consciousness where our awareness expands beyond our normal auto-pilot.  In expanded consciousness, we can experience things directly without the filters and distortion of our auto-pilot.  Sitting in just a small gap of silence helps us enter this expanded consciousness and find comfort in the simple experience of being. 

In fact, as anyone who meditates knows, to savor the simple experience of being can be quite enjoyable and enriching.  The quality of just being, without activity, is outside the normal container that our mind creates during ordinary consciousness.  It is open, spacious, unfenced and therefore unguarded.  And our auto-pilot mind doesn’t like us to let our guard down.

That is where silence acts as a threshold.  If we take a few steps, we can cross that threshold and move from ordinary into expanded consciousness.  We can reap the benefits of silence without the discomfort our auto-pilot mind dreads.   

If you’re up for it, try these steps the next time you feel the urge to reach for your phone (or the remote, or a handful of peanuts, or … fill in the blank) to avoid boredom.

  1. Watch for the urge to be occupied, to have your attention filled with activity.
  2. Resist the urge to pick up the phone and see what happens.  Try it for a count of ten seconds.  Come on, you can do anything for ten seconds!  Stay curious about what happens. The urge may go away or it may intensify.  Interesting.
  3. Look beneath the urge and see if there is a small patch of silence.  Let that moment of silence occupy your attention instead of activity.  Release the need to find something to grab on to.  Allow the absence of noise, even for a few seconds, to refresh you.
  4. Feel your body and your breathing.  Look for the sensations that are there, the slight tension in your muscles, the subtle flow of energy.  Let your attention soften, allow your normal armoring to drop.  See if a luxurious feeling of relaxation starts to seep in.

“Steve Sphar?  We’re ready for you,” a voice calls out.  Ah, just when the simple experience of being was starting to get good. 

“Yes, I’m here.”  I rise from my chair and follow the attendant, a little disappointed to be interrupted.  No matter.  Silence and the experience of being are always available.  I’ll be back soon.

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

6 Replies to “Use Silence to Engage Boredom”

  1. Thanks, Steve! I felt calm just reading about how to sink into the silence. I can use this process and the exquisite result. 🤗

    1. Anne, thanks for the tip. Digital information is here to stay, so we have to find a way to navigate it without being sucked in or dragged down. I think Ezra Klein is very insightful, I will have to check out the podcast.

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