Boredom is an experience that is avoided. The distractions available are numerous: smartphone, TV, work, household chores and friends are but a few. But how would it be to experience boredom by choice?
I wrote this post whilst I was on what was planned to be a 3 day retreat in the farmland hills above the Welsh market town of Brecon. I have spent many retreat breaks over the last 8 years at the centre at Llannerchwen. It is very quiet, in beautiful rolling wooded hills and visited by pheasants, rabbits, hawks and much more. But it is my experience that every retreat is different; the external landscape changes with the season, and my internal landscape changes both with season and its own rhythms .
It was on my mind that there would be opportunity to experience boredom, even though I had brought books, podcasts and my camera. And so I chose to sit on the cabin’s most comfortable chair and gaze through the large patio doors at the dank welsh countryside, and I notice.
I notice the voice; my internal commentator suggesting I do this, or that. It is a quiet insistent voice, no doubt fueled by my normal behaviour, which in turn has been shaped by our doing culture. Stopping for a while, not reading, not even meditating is an enlightening experience. The voice is very strong. This post is a product of its insistent suggestions. But in between the activity, the doing tasks, there is space to notice.
I have sat for a while – not timed – and observed. I notice the movements outside my window; the thrushes fighting over territory the occasional rabbit foraging through the bronze bracken, and the last leaves from the long passed Autumn clinging on to tributary branches.
In between the visual stimulation I notice my mind’s habits. Thoughts of action and activity wander in and beckon in an alluring manner, like an old friend suggesting a visit to a favourite haunt. I note the thought and go back to the visual. This is a cultivated habit from my mindful photography, but the thoughts are relentless. Like the waves they return again and again.
I know that the practice is in the noting and not reacting. In honouring the thought or associated feeling and returning to the moment. This is itself a mindful practice and is part of the reason I am here, cultivating the habit of paying attention. Why do I do this? I am choosing to re-wire my brain. This is how Dr Barbara Mariposa explains it in ‘The Mindfulness Playbook’
“The brain changes shape according to how you use it. We can intentionally change our brain and nervous system for the better. Regularly using mindful (activities) the prefrontal cortex increases in size and activity……..promoting greater self awareness, the essential building block for emotional intelligence. We are giving ourselves a mental and emotional upgrade.”
Stopping and noticing provides the opportunity to connect to a fundamental truth; “I am not my thoughts. I have thoughts.” Dr B Mariposa
So I will stop this activity now and return to my boredom, my observation of how I am. But I will leave you with a supportive mindful photography practice that I will complete my self later. (The photo with the post is the product of the practice)
Mindful Photography Practice – Boredom
Imagine that you can only create one photograph
Take yourself and your camera out to a quiet location where you will not be disturbed.
Set your camera to a mode that you are comfortable with and requires little technical photographic thought from you.
Turn off (or cover) the review screen.
Sit at your location and pay attention to your mind
Notice the thoughts. Recognise the feelings that arise. Do nothing, just sit. Sit for at least 20 minutes before you even pick up your camera, but notice your drive to complete the task, the consideration of your space and its photographic opportunities.
Create one photograph. You can move to do this. Do not look at it. Just sit and notice your thoughts
After a while go home. Sit quietly and look at your photo. What thoughts and feelings arise?