Cool Boredom or a Natural Number

Posted by on Sep 25, 2012 in BLOG, Suchness | 4 Comments
Cool Boredom or a Natural Number

Joseph Brodsky:

When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. Boredom represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor. Boredom is your window on the properties of time. It is your window on time’s infinity. Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.

I haven’t been bored much for a while, but I have been very restless lately—frequently too restless for sitting meditation.

My response to this subtle kind of boredom—boredom as agitation, the boredom of waiting for an end to waiting—is this: rather than fidget mindlessly most of the time, or let my discursive mind continue to review things that have happened or may happen yet, I practice fidgeting mindfully. Using beads or my own fingers to keep track, I repeat mantras, usually a set or factors or multiples of 108.

Why 108? While I generally steer clear numerology, I gravitate nonetheless to this number these days, possibly because a friend just gave me a mala (aka rosary) with 27 beads, and also just because it’s neat. Most malas in Hinduism and Buddhism seem to have 27 or 108 beads. And if you don’t have beads, there are ways to do it with your fingers. Makes me want to write a post on how to “pray without ceasing” in urban environments…

My default mantras, repeated aloud if I’m sitting, walking, or driving alone, or mentally if I’m in class or watching a movie or chatting, are “Let go,” or
“Father, if it be Thy will, take this cup away from me; yet not my will but Thine be done!” (a Christian verse that has been resonating deeply with me).

Another one, longer, I think by Reggie Ray:
May I develop complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions and all people.
May I experience everything nakedly, completely without mental reservations or blockages.
May I never withdraw from life or centralize onto myself.
May my heart be laid bare and open to the fire of all that is.

In the morning I do this 108 times:

With a wish to free all beings (from suffering), may I always go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha until I reach full enlightenment. Filled with wisdom and compassion, today in the Buddha’s presence may I generate the mind set upon perfect awakening for the benefit of all beings. For as long as space exists and sentient beings endure, may I too remain to dispel the misery of the world.

Of course, when I’m just sitting, no mantra is necessary and the real boredom can sink in.

Chögyam Trungpa, from the Myth of Freedom:

There is no promise of love and light or visions of any kind — no angels, no devils. Nothing happens: it is absolutely boring. Sometimes you feel silly. One often asks the question, “Who is kidding whom? Am I on to something or not?” You are not on to something. Traveling the path means that you get off everything, there is no place to perch.… ”I’m supposed to get something out of meditation. I’m supposed to attain different levels of realization. I haven’t. I’m bored stiff.” Even your watcher is unsympathetic to you, begins to mock you. Boredom is important because boredom is anti-credential. Credentials are entertaining, always bringing you something new, something lively, something fantastic, all kinds of solutions. When you take away the idea of credentials, then there is boredom.

We had a film workshop in Colorado in which we discussed whether it was important to entertain people or make a good film. And what I said was that perhaps the audience might be bored with what we have to present, but we must raise the intelligence, the standards of the audience, up to the level of what we are presenting, rather than trying to constantly match their expectations, their desire for entertainment. Once you begin to try to satisfy the audience’s desire for entertainment, you constantly bend down and bend down and bend down, until the whole thing becomes absurd. If a film-maker presents his own ideas with dignity, his work might be ill-received in the beginning but possibly well-received once people begin to catch up to it. The film might raise the audience’s level of sophistication.

Similarly, boredom is important in meditation practice; it increases the psychological sophistication of the practitioners. They begin to appreciate boredom and they develop their sophistication until the boredom begins to become cool boredom, like a mountain river. It flows and flows and flows, methodically and repetitiously, but it is very cooling, very refreshing. Mountains never get tired of being mountains and waterfalls never get tired of being waterfalls. Because of their patience we begin to appreciate them. There is something in that. I don’t want to sound especially romantic about the whole thing, I am trying to paint a black picture, but I slipped a bit.

It is a good feeling to be bored, constantly sitting and sitting.


  1. Pathma
    September 30, 2012

    Interesting! Or should it be boring?

    I’m reminded of Simply Red’s song:

    Ev’ryone is trying to
    get to the bar
    The name of the bar
    The bar is called heaven
    The band in heaven
    They play my fav’rite song
    They play it once again
    They play it all night long

    Heaven is a place
    A place where nothing
    Nothing ever happens

    Heaven is a place
    A place where nothing
    Nothing ever happens

    There is a party,
    everyone is there
    Everyone will leave at
    exactly the same time
    It’s hard to imagine
    that nothing at all
    Could be so exciting,
    could be so much fun

    • admin
      September 30, 2012

      Wow, I’ll have to listen to that. Thanks for pointing it out!

  2. Audrey
    February 2, 2013

    I dig this! I was just looking on google for the morning mantra chant we would chat at Dathun, and found part of it here. I loved reading your post!

    • Nathan
      February 2, 2013

      Nice! I’m glad it was useful to you. Yeah, I’ve found that chant to be profoundly useful since I did Dathun a year+ ago. Take care.


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