Be Still

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In the pre-dawn hours, the thunder snarled right above my roof. One of my dogs trembled and burrowed into my side. A particularly loud clap began with a boom and ended with a sizzle, and then my bedroom was suddenly darker than dark.

The power had gone out, taking with it the glowing alarm clock numerals, the lights on the box next to the television that does magic I can’t explain, the nightlights aimed low for our aging dog’s nighttime navigation.

And, with the darkness, a silence so thick it felt like another blanket on this summer night. Between the cracks and grumbles of thunder, it seemed as though even nature had paused to listen; no night birds, no wind to ring the chimes outside my bedroom window, no errant yowl of a night creature. Just silence.

Gradually, I could see the darker outlines of my two dogs, of the frame of the closet door. And, as my eyes adjusted to the black around me, my ears too adjusted. I heard the restless shifting of the frightened dog on the covers next to me. I heard the undisturbed breathing of my husband, seemingly able to sleep through the storm. And I heard my own breath, a lullaby of steady rhythm.

Sights too often overshadowed by electronics, and sounds too often drowned out by hums and clicks of our everynight life.

In an essay about the book called, “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere,” author Pico Iyer is quoted as advocating for, “sitting still as a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.”

So last night, between thunderbooms, I fell back in love.

lightning

Bored? Good!

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When I decided to (semi) retire, besides being afraid I’d run out of money and become a bag lady, I was afraid of being bored. I preemptively researched places to volunteer, concerts, restaurants to try in my new city.

Because I have had some kind of job since I was 15, I could not even imagine endless days of not working.

I’ve been afraid of boredom since I was a girl. After all, when I’d complain to my parents that I was bored, they would quickly warn me they had an endless number of chores with which to fill my young hours. So boredom was something to be punished.

Even today, anything is better than boredom.

I fill my inbox with subscriptions and, in the rare moments I don’t have the mental capacity to read, I play endless games of Dots or Minesweeper on my mobile devices. Because I’m afraid that if I don’t fill my mind with activity, it will be the beginning of mental and emotional decline.

I recently read an article that has me rethinking that notion. In it, British psychoanalytical writer Adam Phillips, defines boredom as it starts in childhood:

“Every adult remembers, among many other things, the great ennui of childhood, and every child’s life is punctuated by spells of boredom: that state of suspended anticipation in which things are started and nothing begins, the mood of diffuse restlessness which contains that most absurd and paradoxical wish, the wish for a desire.”

Phillips argues that boredom serves a purpose:

“Boredom, I think, protects the individual, makes tolerable for him the impossible experience of waiting for something without knowing what it could be. So that the paradox of the waiting that goes on in boredom is that the individual does not know what he was waiting for until he finds it, and that often he does not know what he is waiting… Clearly, we should speak not of boredom, but of boredoms, because the notion itself includes a multiplicity of moods and feelings that resist analysis; and this, we can say, is integral to the function of boredom as a kind of blank condensation of psychic life.”

Phillips posits that boredom is full of possibilities because it challenges us with simply “being.”

And that can be terrifying.

When my mother was dying, she couldn’t focus on a book or even on the television.

“This is boring,” she said from her hospital bed.

Who knew that dying could be boring? And yet, maybe it has to be. Without filling time with activity, it allows the mind to open, to cast about among possibilities, to settle on what it is one wants to do, ie let go of life.

When you are bored, often it is because you are tired of your own company. But at the important times of life, whether it is dying or crisis, you had better be able to spend time with yourself.

I may need to practice boredom, just as I do meditation, although it seems the opposite of meditation, in which I focus on my breath and a chant. With boredom, it is the very lack of focus that brings possibilities.

So maybe my new retirement goal – although I still don’t want to run through my money and be a bag lady – is to leave space to be bored.

Boredom