One of the worst things we face is a sense of boredom or the uselessness of doing anything at all. Father Beck addresses this:
from Soul Provider
Father Edward L. Beck
Someone's boring me. I think it's me.
--Dylan Thomas. . . .
In his famous 1978 Harvard commencement address, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned of the West's "spiritual exhaustion": "In the United States the difficulties are not a Minotaur or a dragon--not imprisonment, hard labor, death, government harassment and censorship--but cupidity, boredom, sloppiness, indifference. Not the acts of a might all-prevading repressive government but the failure of a listless public to make use of the freedom that is its birthright." If we are indeed a listless public, what has made us so, and what can we do to infuse our lives with new vigor?
We can do a few things. The authors I have just quoted suggest that boredom is an evil to be conquers it if leads to despondency, hopelessness, and ingratitude. Sloth is clearly the result of a refusal to celebrate the gift and potential of life. But there is another way to look at it. We can embrace boredom, hoping to transform it into something not boring at all. We have been convinced that we always need to be doing something to be happy, usually something other than what we are doing. So if we are driving, we can't simply be driving. We must also be listening to the radio or talking on the cell phone or doing both. Perhaps we are even listening to our 10,000-song iPod, the contents of which could last us our lifetime. What about simply listening to nothing instead?
The "art of doing nothing" has long been extolled by religious traditions. Nothing becomes something when nothing produces results that something cannot.The power of meditation is rooted in the power of nothingness. . . The reason for stillness in the midst of chaos is so that the chaos does not consume us. Stillness gives us distance from what we cannot see when trapped in the never-ending swirl of diversion. . . .
My only response is "guilty." We credit ourselves with "multitasking" when, what is actually happening is that we are not accomplishing any one thing with anything approaching the attention it requires. While I belong to an order that looks to cultivating silence, it seems that we've all bought into the idea of silence while doing something.
Silence, stillness, the embrace of the moment in which there is nothing in particular required of us is an art. We have difficulty, convinced by some inner prompting that such moments are "wasting time." But perhaps it is our railing against them that is the waste of time. Were we to realize that we are bored precisely because nothing is required of us at this time and rather than seek solace in a book, television, or endless iPod, we should seek solace in the silence, perhaps then we might make of boredom the gift that God intends for us.
Limitless diversion leads to limitless ennui, but a few moments of stillness, of letting the swirl and twirl of existence settle down--these have limitless potential--I need to become better at exploiting it.