The Anatomy of Boredom


One of my favourite operas is „Eugene Onegin“ by Tchaikovsky. Onegin is a snobbish, blasé young man who is so utterly bored with his life and the people around him, that he takes one wrong decision after the other, until there’s no turning back and he’s left alone with the prospect of a life led in despair, regret, and emptiness. *

 

Onegin, bored, just killed his best friend. But the worst is yet to come. (Stage photo from the Metropolitan's "Onegin", 2009)

 

I’ve often assumed that people felt bored when they get to be alone and feel helpless about what to do with themselves. Being a gal who loves hermital seclusion and the company of things that don’t talk back, I thought I’d be safe of ennui’s toxic corrosion.

But as my life unfolds and brings me into contact with so many new people, places and situations, I often experience boredom where I would have expected myself to be inspired and energized by the prospect of something new coming up.

Drawing from the experience that outer and inner „realities“ are the coessential outcome of my state of consciousness, I am quite certain that my boredom with outside circumstances and aquaintances does in truth reflect a yet uncharted territory of dogmata and beliefs in my own psychology.

I have become quite adroit handling boredom with my Self:

This was achieved by actually weaving a strong and intimate bond with my Being and, once more, the credit goes to the ancient teachings of Yoga and Buddhist Mindfulness.

Studying, and above all practicing, have helped me connect with a source of blazing yet peaceful enthusiasm for my existence, sharpening my senses to detect the myriads of changes and variations in a once seemingly monotone pattern.

Long ago, I wondered whether it could bring deep satisfaction to engage myself in the same (or similar) psycho-physical practices day by day. Actually, it was the fear of boredom making me feel bored.

I gradually learned to gently pull my mind away from my compulsive preoccupations and direct it toward my actual sensations. While my mind had been worried that „nothing’s going on“, I now discovered that even boredom was an event that gave my mind and senses a very particular flavour very much worth tasting.

By now, I“m quite skillful allowing to actually experience my boredom with myself until it subsides, but it gets tricky for me when social expectations come into play. I don’t quite know yet how to handle feelings of disconnect and ennui with people and situations around me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I perfectly understand that no one can be interested in everyone and everything all the time. But there’s something unnatural about this kind of boredom. Like a thick cushion around me, it dampens the exciting life-stuff coming to my senses from the outside world.

***

When watching Eugene Onegin again the other day, I caught myself wondering what advice I would offer to Mr. Onegin in order to help him solve his obvious crisis. And of course, I have to admit now that the advice is actually directed to me.

As a therapist, I would suggest Mr. Onegin and myself to take some more risks in his life.

Because, as it seemed to me, the risks Onegin was taking (like becoming his best friend’s enemy) were clumsy attempts to feel something as reviving as the thrill coming from emotional commitment to his life.

So now that I’ve counseled my musical Shadow Self, it’s time to ask myself a few questions and provide intuitive answers:

What do I gain from remaining emotionally unconnected with the people around me?
I don’t need to care deeply about other people and see my own problems and preoccupations within a perspective that includes other people’s lives.

What is the core fear behind that?
Losing myself, not having time for myself, being drained and emptied.

So, what am I trying to get or to retain for myself through boredom?
Time to connect to myself, and life-energy.

So, if the main question really is about having TIME, CONNECTION and LIFE-ENERGY,
it would be interesting to start an experiment searching for opportunities to stay connected with myself and replenish my energy while weaving a stronger bond with life and people around me.

I’ll start the tests and keep you updated straight from the laboratory…

***

* Here’s one of my favourite interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s work. It is the performance under conductor Daniel Barenboim at the Salzburg Festival in 2007, featuring Peter Mattei as Onegin. His singing is beautiful but I most enjoy his powerful acting as the story takes his caracter from cold-hearted and indifferent to emotionally agitated, remorseful and shattered. The performance is available on DVD.

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