I recently read Pema Chödrön’s Living Beautifully, and I was struck by the following passage:
Chögyam Trungpa demonstrated the co-emergent nature of feelings in a teaching on boredom-on how we feel when nothing’s happening. Hot boredom, he said, is a restless, impatient, I-want-to-get-out of here feeling. But we can also experience nothing happening as cool boredom, as a care-free, spacious feeling of being fully present without entertainment – and being right at home with that.
I quite like the phrase “soft boredom.” When younger, I experienced “hot boredom” often: when impatiently waiting in the back seat of a car, when waiting for a class to end, when on a plane without anything to do, when there was nothing interesting to look forward to. Boredom was so unpleasant that it needed to be planned around. The anticipation of boredom was itself unpleasant.
I’ve thought to myself over the past several years, “I don’t really get bored anymore.” This isn’t quite true; there are still times that my mind is empty and searching for something to busy itself with, but the experience is quite different. With “hot boredom,” the quality of feeling is distinctly negative. With “soft boredom”, it’s – as Trungpa says – a more “care-free” experience. A thought may float in my head that I wish to engage with, or not! And either is fine.
Along the spectrum of “hot boredom” and “soft boredom”, I believe there’s also an identifiable “lukewarm boredom” which expresses itself as “always having something to think about”. For me, there was a transitionary time when “hot boredom” was no longer present in the absence of an engaging activity, but only because I could always think myself into being engaged. With “lukewarm boredom,” you don’t get the restless I-need-to-be-doing-something feeling, but your mind still needs to be continuously active.
Now, I feel “soft boredom” with a relaxed mind. An hour can float by without serious thought or restless what-happens-next-ing. It’s quite pleasant.
In any case, I’m writing this on a plane after having taken a week off work. I spent the week hiking in Arizona with my girlfriend. As we drove through the desert, hiked (partially) into the Grand Canyon, and watched sunsets amongst Arizona’s sparse flora, I quite appreciated being able to fall back into the spaciousness of “soft boredom”.