Boredom is one of the great sufferings of modern life. It stretches a minute into an hour, a day into a year. "I spent a year in that place, one Sunday," someone said about a certain town! "All our wonderful education and learning is producing a grand sum-total of boredom," wrote D.H. Lawrence; "modern people are inwardly thoroughly bored." He wrote nearly 70 years ago. What would he say of us today?
We live at a truly extraordinary time, a time full of contradiction and paradox. Our world is filled with time-saving devices, and you would expect that there would now be a huge capital of saved time. On the contrary, we never had less of it! Likewise, we never before had so many things to amuse and divert us, but we are more deeply bored with every passing year. Many are tempted to moralise about it, especially when they are talking about young people, but it affects young and old alike. It is not enough to moralise about it; we need to understand it as far as possible.
I experience boredom when I have been totally occupied with things and activities, and suddenly they are no longer there. Then I am thrown back on my empty self: that is the dull ache that we call boredom. It is a feeling of inner emptiness. I can avoid it while there is something to occupy and distract me, but when there is nothing I am plunged back into it. It was there all the time, but I was avoiding it; now I can no longer avoid it, and it feels like non-existence. "Christianity decomposing," Georges Bernanos called it, but that's a bit heavy. Yet it is something or other decomposing: it is my inner life neglected and gone mouldy.
In solitary confinement people have gone insane. Why? Because they were a little insane already. If they were fully sane, then confinement would have made them more sane; what was in them had an opportunity to grow. But what grew in them was their seeds of insanity. If I have nothing to do I have to live with myself, and that is when I discover the state of my sanity. An afternoon with nothing to do is not the same as solitary confinement, but it's a little like it! Such an afternoon could be the best opportunity to find out about this unknown person, myself!
I have to learn to be unoccupied at times and to get used to it. That is another way of saying I have to learn to meditate. Many people try to be occupied twenty-four hours a day. I knew a man who used to sleep every night with earphones connected to a radio station. Try to persuade me that that wasn't a man on the run! A first step would be to turn off the radio (and TV, etc.). That's the easy part. The next step is to turn off that rambling mind of ours. That is not so easy, or rather it is different: it is not like turning off a radio. It is a matter of becoming aware of what is going on in the mind. Normally the mind drifts along in a half-conscious state from one object to another. I need to become aware of that haphazard activity: just aware of it in detail, nothing more. I need to be like the mother of a hyperactive child: I know that telling it to be quiet is no good (in fact it has the opposite effect). I need to be quiet myself, to 'model' quietness, so to speak, to be an atmosphere of quietness. After a time the mind quietens down (but with frequent lapses!), and that is the doorway to the inner world.
Nobody can promise you anything from there, not even relief from boredom (because promises are for God to make, and God may yet want to teach you something through your very boredom). But at least you will know that you are not actively blocking the door to the inner life. When that inner eye is bright, the whole world looks better.
Donagh O'Shea OP