How much of our lives is due directly or indirectly to the influence of boredom, that incessant threat to our mental livelihood? We find that people devote many years of their lives to their hobbies, passions, chores, jobs, and careers — because, well, what else would they do? Because we are animals with an expanded consciousness, to eat, breathe, sleep and reproduce seems not enough. Unlike cats and dogs, we find it unfitting to simply live in the present moment until we are dead. Instead, we require filler – life filler, existential filler. The needs and desires of human consciousness are indeed great, and they require great action, commitment, and dedication. Otherwise, we are apt to feel the force of boredom dooming our minds into the dusty, cobwebbed corners of passivity.
The “extras” which fill in our time upon this earth are composites of culture and creativity, enabled by ennui as a looming and dark influence, not unlike death. I believe that even religion, just as much as it was a creation to satisfy mysterious questions about our place in the universe – was initiated as a vanguard against emptiness and malaise. This is especially the case for religious observances, holidays, and sacrificial processions. In the self-righteous eye of the priest or the holy man, boredom is sacrilegious because it is completely non-devoted to anything, including the higher power(s) that be. For one to regard life as tedious, one must necessarily infer God or the Creator to be a tedious artist.
Human beings may even behave aggressively, to the point of killing one other out of boredom. For how could two or three tribes ever live in the same jungle or upon neighboring lands without the eternal entertainments of death and danger? Wars are always justified by imperatives, yet they must cloak themselves over an emptiness, accompanied by the question often spoken with a drowsy nod and shrug of the shoulders, “Why not?” Indeed. If nothing better to do, why not art? Why not religious service? Why the hunt of an animal, and not of a man seemingly deserving to be made a meal of?
Now for a personal anecdote on this universal force of boredom. When I was a child on the playground at school, my friends and I would invariably find ourselves bored to bits. The monkey-bars would cease to be an amusement, as well as the bright yellow slides, which were, after all, intended for “babies”. We’d wander around condemned to ceaseless monotony, awe-struck by “nothing to do”. There was a forest on the outskirts of the field, and some of us would wander there. Soon enough, this was forbidden by our teachers. We found ourselves, once again, wandering about the grounds, aching for something meaningful to spend our time on.
After nearly two weeks of this stagnation, we stumbled upon a grand idea. We would split into two warring armies and fight each other. But, over what? What was worth a war? What precious item or possession might be worth such conflict? Upon the grounds were a finite number of large rocks, and due to their rarity, they were worth a great value. It was therefore decided we were to have a long and violent “Rock War”.
One army of children would discover a pile of precious stones behind the covering of some bushes, raid them, and hide them in another secret location – behind a tree, under the woodchips, beside a fence, etc., until once again discovered by the other side. One had to be extraordinarily sneaky in finding the rocks, because being caught on the enemy’s base meant certain hell to pay.
The war waged on for many months. Each forty-five minute recess session was a display of brutal conniving and militaristic tactics. At one point, upon locating a magnificent pile of rocks, I was caught red-handed by an enemy soldier named Tim. Tim pushed me into the dirt and wrapped his arm around my neck, employing a standard choke hold. He had me pinned there for what seemed like half an hour, very much intending to suffocate me. Two little girls ambled over and witnessed what was happening and so ran and notified our playground attendant.
Tim was swiftly taken away by the higher authority and I returned to the battlefield. Tim, the sociopathic little twerp he was, spent the rest of the week in detention. I, however, was awarded a rare, purple stone for my bravery, and for suffering inordinately while in the line of duty. And yet suffering was the one thing we did not do in this legendary rock war of ours– quite the opposite. We were delighted, entertained, amused, and totally swept away from that terrible tyrant of time – ennui.
People committed to activities and hobbies (whether they be chess, golfing, going to the cinema, sewing, gardening, playing card games, etc.) often claim that they “do it to pass the time” – as if the activities themselves were absolutely necessary for clocks to function and for time to continue to exist. It is as if the fourth dimension of the universe (Time) were an option according to our discernment. Perhaps it is. As we learned from Albert Einstein at the beginning of the 20th century, time is relative.
It is also said that philosophers are unmarried people with nothing better to do than think. I tend to believe this to be a correct assertion. Hobbies and activities, wars, religious observances, philosophizing, painting, writing, sculpting, all things of form and beauty as well as chaos and disarray are done out of instincts relevant to a particularly human consciousness. How related these instincts are to the influence of boredom might be well summed up as thus, if are to take a page from Descartes:
I think, therefore I am bored.
I am bored, and therefore I think.
Make no mistake! I don’t want the reader to get the impression that everything in life is purely due to boredom. My aim is to simply provoke a questioning of boredom as a very significant feature of the human experience…