After I quit my job to travel, my life was a whirlwind of activity. Drive here, see this, do that, meet with this person, etc. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. My BF and I experienced the most fantastic places and were able to meet and hang with some equally fantastic people. But it was hard work, and it took a great deal of energy.
After traveling pretty much non-stop for 5 months, we decided to rent an apartment for the month of December in one of our favorite spots in Colorado. Oh what a relief it's been to slow down and revel in the sweet decrescendo of life, to simply sit still and watch the snow fall or spend mindless hours staring at puzzle pieces. For the first time in a long time I felt a very familiar feeling creep inside me. I was almost ecstatic when I recognized the feeling as boredom: "Oh hello old friend! How are you!? Very nice to see you again finally!" This feeling of (almost) giddiness to experience boredom made me realize just how different my life had become.
In the "before times," my life was largely the same, day in and day out. Wake up, complete morning ritual, check work email (pray that no one needed anything urgent), then plop on the couch with work laptop placed in front of me while watching YT videos of people living out my dream i.e. #vanlife until the early afternoon, do some kind of second workout (yoga or HIIT), make dinner, watch t.v., nighttime routine, sleep. Repeat.
This is not to say that routines and rituals are bad. I actually really enjoy the consistency and predictiveness that routines provide, and it's honestly something I've craved during this nomad time. But it had became fairly monotonous and joyless. I would go days without smiling or even laughing. I felt like a human who had been programmed into completing life as efficiently as possible, without giving any thought to the routine or life itself.
I now believe that what may have been lacking was my ability to pay attention. In one of my favorite lessons so far in Sam Harris's Waking Up app Intro Course, "The Cure for Boredom," Sam discusses the power of paying attention:
"Attention really is your true source of wealth, even moreso than time."
Case in point, we can spend time with someone, but not give them any of our attention. We've all hung out with someone who was distracted the entire time; unfortunately, we've all been that person too. Additionally, people who complain of boredom are often just distracted, not paying attention to the present moment. This is genuinely how I felt during 2020 and much of 2021, walking zombie-like through life. I was completing my routines and rituals, and they were giving me a sense of comfort, control and even helping me achieve some of my health goals. However I wasn't really in tune with myself and what I was doing or feeling.
Now I feel like I'm actually paying attention to my life for the first time. I'm asking myself what I want to do each day. I’m noticing my mind, my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I'm connecting with life, like it's a person I'm genuinely interested in. I’m noticing things about myself I've never noticed before: what excites me, what triggers me, what gives or takes away my energy, what are my strengths and also my weaknesses, what are my blind spots, etc. It’s not all fun per se, but it’s been very enlightening, and makes life alot more interesting!
This talk of boredom reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend several years ago. We were discussing what we would do if we no longer needed to make money. My answer of course would be to travel the world. I was gushing about how exhilarating it would be. Little did I know that this person I was talking to had decided to travel for some time after they had graduated college, instead of working right away. He dismissed my fantasy telling me that I would eventually get bored. He even described how he cut his trip to Europe short because he was ... bored. I was dumbfounded. How could that happen? How could you possibly be bored while doing exciting things? And now I know that it's not for lack of doing things but lack of attention (and possibly a lack of creativity if I'm being honest.)
I'm not afraid of boredom. It makes me laugh when people ask me if I'm bored now that I don't work. Ha! If anything I'm more interested in my life than ever before. Because it's genuinely filled with activities and people I like. So I welcome boredom. I sit with it. Analyze it. Play with it. Invite it to come back. If only to remind me to "Stop what you're doing and pay attention!" Because the cure for boredom isn't to "do things," it's to stop being distracted from what you're already doing. To really pay attention to yourself and those around you, maybe for the first time in your life. You may be surprised what you find out. I know I've been.