In the past few months, I have noticed how frequently I recommend listening to podcasts to the people around me. Every time I am asked what do I do in my free time, (besides chuckling in my head about the fact that I hardly get any free time), I resort to this well-rehearsed answer of diverting the conversation to podcasts and audiobooks.
Mind you, I do enjoy them both and have subscriptions and access to plenty of these on my phone. I have recently come to analyse why have I filled my free moments with these unlike before.
It so happened that on an unusually hot day, following a dust storm there was a power cut that lasted for 7 hours. Coincidentally, my phone and my iPad both were low on battery and I was in no mood to read a book either. It was then I noticed how I’d become habituated of filling all my free time with listening to podcasts and audiobooks.
It initially felt like a pretty harmless observation.
As time ticked past at an unusually slow pace amidst the whirring of the ceiling fan from an exhausted inverter battery, a feeling of uneasiness started filling up my mind.
Though my mind was eager to dismiss it as boredom, my heart was inclined towards a deeper exploration.
I have always taken pride in never being scared of being bored. As whimsical or rather weird it may sound, it is the reality of my life.
As a child, the school summer vacations meant lots of free time for me to be on my own. It was partly because my parents had full on, demanding jobs but majorly because they had chosen to put other things (like their duties towards ageing parents and their work life) ahead of the need to invest more time with me.
As the only child in the house (my brother used to live with my maternal grandparents), I had plenty of time at my hands each day (as I was an early riser) to waste or rather invest in daydreaming. This was the pre-Internet era (or rather, the time when Internet hadn’t reached my part of the world).
In those free hours, I’d scribble my thoughts, which were mainly my questions to life as to why didn’t my parents choose to take me to the movies or for a vacation in the hills than letting me get bored with a pile of comic books and lots of mangoes to savour.
This was the beginning of my habit of channelising the curiosity in me to find the answers I craved for but was too timid to ask openly.
Today, some three decades later, I can safely say, that the seeds to my habit of introspection were sown in those childhood hours of boredom.
As time moved on, I had learnt to be happy to be on my own. Being alone in the house or being left to do my own thing, never scared or bothered me a bit.
As I grew accustomed to daydreaming, my mother’s efforts of enrolling me in the various hobby classes (as they were called in those days) were met with resistance. Though I did end up learning a lot through those classes, I sorely missed the times when I used to be on my own, uninterrupted by the need to prove how creative or artistic I was, which I clearly wasn’t.
This changed when I reached grade 9 at school.
From then on, I hardly had any free time that was not filled with studying in one form or the other. This was when I slowly began to lose connection with my inner self. I was more confused, the number of unanswered questions in my life was soaring at an alarming pace but I had no opportunity to sit back and contemplate what was causing this storm in my life.
This storm stopped many years later, when in the midst of a difficult marriage and crazy work life, due to health reasons, I took a break from work.
It was the time when I was too disturbed to care to fill my free time with TV shows, movies or even social media for that matter.
I was once again, alone with my thoughts.
I’d be honest, initially, I was scared.
I had lost the habit of being alone with myself. I was unprepared to answer the real questions my subconscious mind was repeatedly asking my conscience.
Within minutes, I turned on the TV only to turn it off in the next 10 minutes. I was restless. I was craving for peace but wasn’t prepared to take the path that led me to it. Introspection.
I was sure that the way ahead was difficult, but if I was to survive this phase of my life, I had to re-learn to be alone with myself and muster enough courage to answer the very questions I’d been posing to life.
It was a stressful exercise, but only in the start. Once I overcame the roadblock of dreading to be face to face with the real issues in my life, I hit home.
I finally cut off all the noise and re-learnt to love being with the one person I was born to spend this life with. Myself.
Though this time, I was surrounded by people who were more shocked by the way I was spending time (doing nothing), how disconnected I was from social media and how uninformed I was about all that was happening in the lives of the people I had on my Facebook friend’s list.
However, I was glad to be bored. Because I was bored of living life in the fast lane. I was bored of filling my 24 hours with tasks that overflowed to fill up my days leaving me starved for contemplation.
This was when I reconnected with boredom and embraced it with the knowledge that in introspection lay the emotions recollected in tranquillity – that is, reflection.
These emotions when I started collecting in my journal in writing, filled the empty hours of my life while, I slowly, trained myself how to sit and just be in the present.
This time around, I promised myself to not unlearn the art of being busy with myself and being unproductive if that is what the world chooses to label me.
With time, the busy me forgets this resolve.
With time, I get swayed by the constantly bombarded, oft-advertised need to multi-task and be my productive best.
But, am grateful for nature programmed me to be a procrastinator.
Every time, the going gets tough, I’m persuaded by my conscience to return to the authentic self, the part of me who feels at home, daydreaming, contemplating and seeking answers by reflecting on my life and actions.
Today, as a parent, I am again at the crossroads of choosing the path of pushing my child to invest her summer vacations with endless extra-curricular activities like her peers or to let her be guided by her instinct and take on life at her pace, leaving room for boredom and watching the clouds change shape at their leisurely pace.
The more I talk to other parents, the more I get worried by how much boredom is dreaded by the parents.
I have seen it first hand in my home, that my parents never panic or offer a dozen solutions to cure boredom everytime a child says they are bored.
Boredom isn’t a problem that needs to be solved.
What to do when you or your child feels bored?
Let the person feeling bored, take time to find out what’s boring or bothering them and address it in their own way. It might sound like a boring exercise, but that’s how boredom works.
In the competitive world, we now live in, letting our kids while away time, feeling bored seems counter-intuitive. But from my personal experiences, I am confident, if I let Pari spend her school holidays her way, she’ll grow up to be okay. Even if it means she ends up becoming a person like me.
With Pari, I have been at work to help her understand that being bored isn’t a bad thing.
It is not necessary to have our days filled with distractions or activities.
Following our heart, even if it craves to create a mess with watercolours and dough is better than spending hours with the iPad on the pretext of sharpening our reasoning.
That’s just my way of looking at life. I do not say, it is anyway better than what other parents choose to let their kids do.
For me, what the world calls boredom, is, in fact, a means of slowing down the pace of time. Giving time the space to stretch and be filled with me-time.
Its beauty needn’t be diluted by fun activities.
It needn’t be influenced by the world who constantly chimes in how much they accomplish with enhanced productivity skills in the same hours I spend contemplating.
And most certainly, it shouldn’t need me to be losing this life, endlessly scrolling through social media feeds and letting algorithms decide for me what I watch next or shop next.
It’s tough to be bored in the times we live in.
Yet, I’d like you to honestly answer the following questions:
Are you bored with your work?
Are you bored with your life?
Are you bored with your routine?
If you said yes to one or more of the above questions, its time you embraced boredom, took the time to find out what exactly you’re bored of and work on it.
Our attention is being battled for by the many apps we’ve installed on our mobile devices who’re constantly updating to keep us entertained at the cost of driving us further from our own selves.
If you think self-care is a mere buzzword, mindfulness is just for the monks or a practice that’s being milked by media to sell us boredom packed in a fancy packaging, you, my friend, should try to experience boredom my way.
Shut down all gadgets, TV, mobile, smartwatches, all of them and choose to be alone, all by yourself.
You needn’t be anywhere fancy because you’re getting ready to delve and explore the beauty of the universe that lies within you, with answers, the happiness, the peace and contentment you’ve been seeking all over the world.
What are you to gain by doing this?
You might not accomplish much in the start, but for once you’d be amazed by how the time that always seems to fly, offers to slow down for you, once you begin to think about all the things that bore you and why.
Besides, this could be the very step that’ll connect you to your conscience allowing you room to make peace with your flawed, imperfect self.
As for filling my time with podcasts, these school holidays, am cutting them down to make more room for the one activity that has brought me closer to myself ~ boredom.
And if you’re wondering that boredom can perhaps only help you connect with your inner self, you MUST watch this TED talk.
Learn to love being bored as Manoush Zomorodi explains the connection between spacing out and creativity.
“So the next time you go to check your phone, remember that if you don’t decide how you’re going to use the technology, the platforms will decide for you.
And ask yourself: What am I really looking for?
If it’s to distract yourself from doing the hard work that comes with deeper thinking, take a break, stare out the window and know that by doing nothing you are actually being your most productive and creative self. It might feel weird and uncomfortable at first, but boredom truly can lead to brilliance.”