As a member of Eckhart Tolle’s website I receive emails alerting me to his latest teachings and talks. The June teaching focuses on using boredom for spiritual growth.
Using boredom? Seems crazy, right? It’s not. Eckhart shows how boredom provides a profound opportunity for entering a state of presence. How?
First, let’s define what we mean by boredom. It’s how we feel when nothing is happening. You’re sitting in your car at a red light and there’s nothing going on. A commercial comes on when you’re watching a live television show. You’re on a long airplane flight, you’ve finished your book and there’s no television on the seat top facing you.
In the old days, let’s say fifty years ago, many would have dealt with each of the above examples by just sitting there and doing nothing. But now? Boredom, aka having nothing to do, has been virtually outlawed by society.
Today, that person at a red light picks up their phone and checks to see if any texts have come in. No texts? Check the Twitter feed. A commercial on television? Pick up your phone and check Instagram. A long flight? Use your iPad to watch movies or play games.
As Eckhart says:
“There’s a whole industry designed to help us avoid boredom. Television, video games, magazines, and our phone’s online distractions.”
We in the world of 2021 are addicted to “doing” something every moment of the day. What we’re doing is feeding the insatiable appetite of our egoic minds, which crave constant stimulation.
This isn’t a good thing. As 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously wrote:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
In other words, humanity’s problems stem from our inability to resist the pull of our minds and merely sit in presence. Sitting in presence, in the absence of thought, is where the gold lies. It’s where we find ourselves. Eckhart expresses this beautifully:
“You are never more essentially, more deeply, yourself than when you are still.”
One could make the case that the work of our lives is practicing NOT getting sucked into our minds. Over and over and over…Until we reach a place where our still, conscious self is in the driver’s seat of our lives most of the time instead of rarely.
And this is where working with boredom enters the picture. It’s a perfect practice “field” for building still presence in our lives.
Here is Eckhart’s four step boredom practice. Let’s use the airplane flight example to illustrate. You’ve finished your book and your mind immediately starts looking for the next thing it can “eat.”
The first step is to simply notice when you’ve become bored. Just be aware of that.
The second step is both the most important and difficult — sit with the boredom and do nothing about it. Don’t pick up the phone or put on the music, etc. Simply sit with the discomfort, the urge to do something.
Third, focus your attention on the inside of your body. As Eckhart explains it, “Feel the aliveness in your hands, your arms, your feet, your legs.” Feel the energy coursing through you.
The final step comes when we work our way through the bored feeling into a state of aliveness. Eckhart refers to this as going through boredom and into being. It’s the payoff, so to speak. It’s where we experience the depth that comes with entering the present moment. With no thought. No ego.
We look around and marvel at anything that is part of our field of awareness — a painting, books on the desk, trees bending in the wind outside the window, the song of a mourning dove. Ordinary sights and sounds like these, experienced from this state of conscious presence, take on a heightened sensation that dwarf any mind candy like texts, TikTok videos or the latest on Instagram.
So that’s the practice. Four simple steps.
1. Notice you’re bored.
2. Resist the urge to satisfy that boredom with any mind stimulus.
3. Focus on the sensations of your inner body.
4. Stay with your inner body until you feel a sense of deep presence/aliveness, after which survey your field of awareness.
It won’t be easy at first. We’ve all grown accustomed to quashing boredom the moment it rears its supposedly ugly head. It will take practice.
But that sustained practice will improve our ability to reap the most important thing that life has to offer: Living in the moment. After all, the present is the only place that life has, does and will ever occur.
Finally, if you’re a follower of Eckhart’s work, I highly recommend joining his website. I’ve been a member for ten years and have loved it. There are scores of talks he’s given and all sorts of helpful content. It costs about twenty bucks a month. You can access it here.