Deconstruction of Ennui: The Possibility & Challenge of Boredom

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Framing possibility is about restructuring meanings, creating visions, and establishing environments where possibility is spoken – where the buoyant force of possibility overcomes the pull of the downward spiral.
— Rosamund Zander, The Art of Possibility

There was a time when I hated to walk for recreation.

Strolling down the sidewalks of my neighborhood was tedious. Hiking through the woods was uninteresting. I desired sport, competition, objective.

When my daughter was born, walking became any easy way to reclaim some “me” time. Tucked safely in a stroller, I could meander through our tree lined streets and not have to worry about bumps, bruises, or cries.

Walking was a delicious, selfish act.

No one could shame me for it, not even myself.

As I’ve matured as a mother, writer, and business owner, I still revel in the alone time that walking brings. Now, most often, I walk without the stroller – kiddo napping soundly in her crib at home. Now, I enjoy the peace of the walk for what it is.

Walking is an opportunity to find possibility in the mindful, joy in the journey, and accomplishment in the destination.

Walking lets me breathe in everything – the tree, the stone, the creek, the passerby – for what it is in the moment and breathe out what might be. Most often, I carry my iPhone in my back pocket, the white cord dangling across my chest. I listen to Fresh Air podcasts, I experience music, I absorb coaching calls.

I allow the meditation of each step to bring me further into the possibility of each word.

The walk itself is no more active – but I am more mindful. What could be boredom is instead possibility.

We all have to make judgment calls on where we should spend our time. I am an advocate for spending it deliberately: if you’ve got a spare hour, put it to good use. Or enjoy it by deliberately choosing to chill out. But don’t waste it, and don’t kill it.
— Chris Guillebeau

In the first part of this series, I proclaimed that busyness was not the opposite of boredom. In the second part, I discussed the unproductive behaviors that result from boredom. And in the third, Kirsty explained how boredom is actually an integral part of her creative process – even it it involves the “it’s all shit phase.”

Boredom can be torture.

But boredom can also be a doorway to a mindful, creative, and fulfilling life.

Boredom is a framework for experiencing possibility.

While we are busy – errand to errand, meeting to meeting, diaper change to diaper change – we are focused only on the task at hand. If our focus broadens to encompass a fresh idea, we’re distracted at best.

If allowed to experience the absence of busyness, we have a way to frame possibility within a matrix that allows us to mindfully consider the inputs & outputs of our creative genius.

It is not from busyness that great ideas, abundant thinking, or juicy realizations of worthiness spring forth but from the absence of busyness.

When there is nothing left “to do” – there is possibility.

The solution to listlessness starts with a list.

A list? I thought we working towards finding those times when there is nothing to do.

Listlessness actually has nothing to do with a “list.” The root of “listlessness” is an Old English word for desire. To be listless is to be devoid of desire.

The kind of desire that pulls at our hearts and minds, nagging and begging us to pay attention.

When we’re busy, it’s easier to put desire in the back seat with the groceries and go about our days.

When faced with nothing to do, it’s ever so much more difficult to ignore the pull.

If we want to explore the possibility that an absence of busyness affords us, we have to list our desires. Acknowledge them. Embody them. Speak them into being.

Even when there’s too much to do, returning to a list of desires helps to focus our action toward a more meaningful, mindful pursuit of passion.

Some desires are always near the surface, others are completely unrealized. Only by continually evaluating our own inner workings will we be able to truly understand our list of desires.

At the intersection of desire, skill, and possibility (aka boredom) is a need to be challenged. Creative genius cannot be achieved without a challenge.

Don’t leave yourself unchallenged.

Back in the first part of the series, I shared the boredom that I faced in school. Unchallenged, I teetered at the edge of self-destruction.

The creative process always has peaks and valleys. There will be times when an absence of challenge, priority, or single nagging desire, leaves us in a state of boredom. Even when we approach it with utter mindfulness, open to possibility, we will walk through a valley. The peaks of the creative process are when we experience flow.

Flow is complete engagement in the act of creating. It’s a combination of aptitude and challenge.

It allows you to fully exercise your talent while exploring capabilities you didn’t realize you possessed.

Flow is what we have to look forward to when we accept our boredom and use it to our advantage.

Creative flow is our reward when we engage the world mindfully, reframing boredom into a paradigm of possibility and not stagnation.

Boredom isn’t something to dread. Not something to ward off with the incense of unnecessary shopping trips or the potion of afternoon snacks. It’s not something to bury beneath a layer of busyness.

Boredom is something to recognize and use as a tool to engage with a more mindful life and creative way of being.

8 thoughts on “Deconstruction of Ennui: The Possibility & Challenge of Boredom

  1. So inspiring once again! Have you read some of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi books on the flow? They are like little treasure and force (in a good way) people to think different way and to do everything but be bored.

    Anyway, great post!

  2. You must be that fly on the wall in my house. I have continually been bored at the jobs I’ve worked. It’s that boredom that’s so exhausting and makes my mind try and find solutions out of the tedium. I crave the busyness so I won’t get frustrated and depressed at how bored I am. It sometimes feel as though I’m valued for the mindless work I do and not the creative skills I have.

  3. Beautiful Tara! As someone that did teeter into self destruction when I was younger via absolute boredom, this has been a difficult lesson to learn over the years since. This little series comes at a perfect time for me as I address these issues for the first time working independently. When I worked a day job the process was much different as I could only focus on my art in my spare time. The peaks and valleys still occurred but not as intensely as they do now. I am going to come back to these posts often I think :-)

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