Okay, today is June 25, Sunday, June 25 2023. And the topic I'm taking up today, I hope it's not prophetic. Might be is boredom. Get ready. So this, this came to me when my granddaughters were dropped off, off in our house, Sophia Kirana. I think they're about two and four. If I were a better Grandfather, I would know exactly. Let's say two and four, certainly how they act. And it's sometime after some amusement. Sophia said, I'm bored. And it was very difficult to find anything that would satisfy it. And eventually, she asked to watch TV, and some some racecar named Blaze that goes around and has adventures. Just the crappiest cartoon ever seen. I watched it with her. She was she was engaged, and I was bored.
So what what exactly is going on when we're bored, I've seen it done a lot of reading about it, obviously. And I've seen it defined as a state of desire for a desire, state where nothing seems interesting. Everything seems too hard. Almost everybody has had some experience of it. They say it peaks in early childhood. So he is just getting into it, I imagine and keeps going up till you're in their 20s. And then it settles out of that. And by your 50s. Apparently, it's somewhat better read. And then for some people, women especially kicks up in their 60s. Of course, it's not one size fits all. So your experience may vary. And a lot of people say there is a lot more boredom going on now. And that may or may not be true. You think back to the simplicity of life, back in the middle of Middle Ages. In a way, maybe it's more a bit more boring. Certainly were less distractions. And we'll get into that the relationship between boredom and distraction. Today, we have so much more busy work. So many people work at jobs that kind of seem bullshit. I don't know sales and marketing. A lot of people in middle management, it pays the bills. But for a lot of people, it's not terribly fulfilling. And of course, we tend to be more cut off than we ever were from the natural world. People depend on us, excuse me. People spend time in front of a computer. They don't get out into the natural world. So many young people you read about it in Korea and Japan especially to live with their parents and never come out of the room, just in their room on their screen. Sort of failure to watch
what we really, as a society, don't know how to do is just to be just to sit just to let everything go. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal lived in the 1600s said, get this right. All of humanity's problems come from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone. And there have been a lot of scientific studies of boredom. And that's one of the things they find is when people are bored. They tend to do things impulsively. They tend to act out they're more likely to get angry. They're more likely to do things that hurt other people. A lot of it is just when you're mired in boredom. It's aversive it's unpleasant, it can be extremely unpleasant, and we look for ways to just Stop it. There was one experiment that was done where people subjected to some amount of tedium alone in a room had at their disposal button they could push it would give them a painful shock. Beforehand, they this had been tried out, and most of the people had said they'd be willing to pay money not to be shocked like that. And a number of people in this study went ahead and shocked themselves. Anything, anything better than being stuck. One guy, one outlier, shocked himself in a period of about, I don't know, 15 minutes or so gave himself 190 shocks. I think a lot of the misbehavior of young teenagers, especially young men, is just boredom, wants something to happen. can remember doing stupid things myself at that age. But of course, the one modern innovation to get you out of your painful state of boredom is your phone. And million articles out there on the web, about going to the web going to doom scrolling to, to try to find some sort of escape. And there's a article I came across, entitled The onwy engine was written by a guy named Max Patrick schlager. And there's a little bit about it on a website called Upworthy. I really don't know who the person speaking here is. But he or she says, The advent of social media and smartphones has nearly eradicated the idea of the empty moment. We no longer have to sit with our thoughts when waiting in line at the supermarket. There's no need to strike but strike up a conversation with someone at the bus stop, to pass the time. Where there's no need to just stand and feel the breeze or hear the birds.
says one doesn't even need to remember to grab a book before getting on a flight. Social media makes the promise that it's possible for us to be entertained and engaged during every waking moment. And then he turns to the case that this guy Schlanger makes in his article, the cargo cult of the uhnwi engine. I'm not going to get into why it's a cargo cult. It's kind of amusing and interesting, but I have way too much material. So we'll just talk about what he talks about the onwy engine is basically what the web provides you with little sequential distractions that can keep you engaged and fend off your incipient boredom. But one of the problems with that device is he doesn't talk about it. But it's something else I read about loving this world word. It's called the intial edification of the internet. So here's how that works. You set up a site, I don't know, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, whatever. And you design it to be extremely engaging, and people flock to it. And then you have to begin to monetize those people. You have to find ways to make money off of it. And you can make a lot of money clearly. And so you begin offering ads and you begin tweaking the content. So it's more engaging, more, perhaps more enraging. The more people are angry and pissed off, the more likely they're going to click on the Next link. So you take an experience that was kind of nice in the beginning, and you gradually make it crappier and crappier. And the other thing you do is you make the rewards intermittent. It's been a lot of studying of operant conditioning, behavioral psychology, where if you have a, if you get an unreliable reward, sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't, that's actually about the most addictive setup you can find. So next time, you're idly scrolling through whatever it is that that captures you. Notice that notice the fact you keep hoping you're going to find something that's actually engaging and and then decide whether it was worth it at the end.
The point that Schlenker makes is also that the content creators for all this stuff are extremely lazy. They've discovered that the bar is pretty low on the internet, and you can get plenty of attention with minimal effort by creating low quality content. One of the great examples is the so called listicle says content creators took note of this trend, and while many of them resisted many more adjusted accordingly. After all, why should they expend a lot of effort on something when lazy offerings, we're seeing more success. Before long accuracy, quality and correctness became optional requirements. And online audiences learn to expect mostly low effort content instead of risk refined some blushes.
There's also some research here that backs up what he's saying. Researchers in the Netherlands Robinwood University recently found that phone usage wasn't an effective method to alleviate boredom and fatigue, and even made these feelings worse in many cases. No doubt preaching to the choir, or else to the unconvinced. But it's good to just sit that out at the beginning. So much of what we do when we're faced with boredom is fruitless leaves nowhere. And we keep doing it. It's an example of what's in Alcoholics Anonymous is the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. So what did ever get him by the way? Another great antidote to boredom is drinking. Now the one that that at least makes it go away and then causes all the other problems associated with drugs and alcohol. It's a chronic busyness. Another possibility. Guys gossip. It's really a question of where are you going to go when there's nothing in front of you? That's demanding your attention. What do we do with that? It's really a problem. That's a modern problem. Not that modern but you know, last 100 years or so, people more and more have a lot of leisure time and don't really know what to do with it. What you choose to do make so much difference you know, the most people have heard this I think we quote it usually in every workshop. The Spanish philosopher Ortega, you guys it gets first name is horror game, said, Tell me to what you pay attention. And I will tell you who you are.
And Thoreau said, I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality.
makes such a difference what we choose to do. I've often been struck by the difference between the way that we veg out and the way that people maybe 200 years ago might have ventured out will sit in front of a TV or a screen. They used to sit in front of a fire. You ever done that? Just sitting in front of the fire? Watching it burn down? It's I suppose it's another distraction, but it has a different quality. Maybe because it's natural. It's real. It was an outing we had when I was first at the center. It was out at the Canandaigua Lake House of Audrey Fernandez, one of our founding members. And Roshi Kapleau was out there. And at some point towards the end of the evening, they set up a bonfire and we all stood around and watched it. It's just mesmerizing. Remember Roshi Kapleau saying we love it because it reminds us of when we didn't have bodies
so I'm going to read from two or three guys about some of the potential in this state that we labeled as boredom can frame it a lot of different ways. And the first guy want to read from well yeah first guy want to read from is a psychoanalysis is named as Masood Khan
they actually not only he but Bertrand Russell, what Whitman have words that have phrases that really are pretty similar in describing the state for from Masood Khan. It's the phrase he uses here, lying fallow. And we'll say a little bit more about that. For Bertrand Russell, he called it fruitful monotony. While women called it loafing. There's a great quote from Henry Miller. I've read before says this, to be silent the whole day long. See no newspaper, here, no radio, listen to no gossip, be thoroughly and completely lazy, thoroughly and completely indifferent to the fate of the world is the finest medicine a man can give himself. Two part of our job, just becoming a real person is to be able to be alone with ourselves to be sitting alone in a room, to be comfortable in our own skin. Not to have to be distracted. To be able to be in a situation that's unpleasant to some degree, and not spin off immediately. There's so many things that come up. This, let's just talk about things that come up in the body. little twinge is in the chest or wherever. How many times do those things just get pushed down below the level of consciousness. So we look for some way to spin out of it. So many things where if we turn and meet it, Everything Changes Everything blossoms. It's really a lot of what Zen practice is about. There's a there's a phrase that was coined by and one of the teachers in the Thai Forest Tradition, whose name is John semedo. had quoted this before. He said, right now it's like this such a good thing to remind ourselves of how else could it be? It can only be like this. The present is what we're given. Sure, you can change it if you can. But if you can't, what are you going to do?
Find out what's there? Find out what's there.
So anyway, turning to this fellow Masood Khan. He's a Pakistani British psychoanalyst, died in 1989. And his term he likes to use for this mode of being is lying fallow.
koan defines lying fallow not as a neurotic conflictual, or distressed state, but as a healthy function of the ego in the service of the individual. One of those intractably silent states, which we associate with the healthy individual radiating from this notion I'm reading here from Maria Popova featured this on her website radiating from this notion as a reminder that we are infinitely complex totalities forged by a process of slow incubation and incremental becoming that how we govern our interiority, how we tend to these processes as they shape us cheeps every outward expression of our lives and then back back to Masood Khan. The capacity for lying fallow is a function of the process of personalization in the individual. This process of personalization, I'm sure this has some specific meaning and cyclin analytic theory. But I think we have a general idea of what we're talking about here achieves ascension wholeness over a slow period of growth, development. And acculturation in its true matrix is a hierarchy of relationships. This might be getting a little boring here. This is a long process, and it is waylaid by many a trauma data, personal, familial and social. But if all goes well, and it does more often than not, what crystallizes and differentiates into the separate status of adult selfhood is a personalized individual with his own privacy, inner reality and sense of relatedness to his social environment. A real person in short
there's a line in the the series succession many of you may have seen where Logan Roy the patriarch of the family says I love you, but you're not serious people.
Khan also says in our excessive zeal to rescue and comfort the individual talking about all the militant focus on self help and self improvement, we have perhaps overlooked some of the basic needs of the person to be private money integrated into life Hello.
Concepts what does the fellow mood achieve for us? The answer is a paradox a great deal and nothing is a nutrient of the ego and a preparatory state. It supplies the energetic substratum for most of our creative efforts and through it unintegrated psychic suspended and through it on integrated psychic suspended animation allows for that larval inner experience that distinguishes true psychic creativity from obsessional productiveness larval of course, means you know, in a previous growing state like the larva of a of an insect
he says lying fallow is above all, the proof that a person can be with him with himself on purposefully with himself or herself. And then he goes on, but while lying fallow is the antipode that is the opposite of productivity. It is also paradoxically the antipode of leisure.
And here's a great rant. It is a strange and uncanny result of urban civilization and the impact of technology on human experience. That leisure has become a pursuit and an end in itself is gradually become an industry and profession in an imperative social need of the individual in modern societies. everyone strives for more and more leisure and knows less and less what to do with it. Hence the emergence of a colossal trade and organizing people's leisure. This need is perhaps one of the real absurdities of our existence today. And it reflects the decay of some crucial value systems in all types and kinds of human beings. The pursuit of frantic leisure is perhaps one of the most dissipating qualities of the technical cultures. The individual on whom leisure has been imposed in massive doses, and who has little capacity to deal with it, and searches for distraction that will fill this vacuum a great deal of the distress and psychic conflict that we see clinically is the result of a warped and erroneous expectation of expectancy of human nature and existence is the omnipresent fallacy of our age that all life should be fun, and that all time should be made available to enjoy this fun. The result is apathy. discontent and pseudo neurosis
later on he says the entertainment media of modern cultures have further exploded this leisure void for commercial gain and flooded citizens with ready made switchable distractions so that no awareness of the need to develop personal resources to cope with fellow states can actualize as private experience should maybe make clear for anybody who doesn't understand that word fallow it's it refers to a field in agriculture, it's sometimes helpful not to plant a crop every year just to leave the field alone and let it renew itself which which happens to be in modern agriculture we simply add nitrates or do something else because we're looking for productivity but there's something wonderful and natural about lying fallow taking a break but renewal renewable
so many examples of way that ways that we can lie fallow walking in the woods
sitting on your porch listening to traffic
gonna I'm gonna move on from Massoud. And we have time to turn here a little bit to Bertrand Russell. It's a famous story about Bertrand Russell and maybe apocryphal because I've seen it attributed to other people as well. He was at a party, some sort of Soiree and is hostess, noticed him standing alone and came up to him and said, Lord Russell, he was he was knighted at some point. And Lloyd Russell, I hope you're enjoying yourself. And he said sardonically. It is the only thing I am enjoying.
And Russell writes, this is in his book, what's the book, The conquest of happy happiness and is from a chapter called boredom and excitement. The term that he uses for the positive aspect of these down states is fruitful monotony. And he writes, we're less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom, we have come to know or rather to believe that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement. Now, this is written back in the book was published in 1930. So this is probably written during the roaring 20s.
And he says, As we rise in the social scale, the pursuit of excitement becomes more and more intense. Those who can afford it are perpetually moving from place to place, carrying with them as they go, gaiety dancing and drinking. But for some reason, always expecting to enjoy these things more in a new place. Those who have to earn a living get their share of boredom, of necessity and working hours. But those who have enough money to be freed from the need of work, have as their ideal a life completely freed from boredom is a noble idea and Far be it for me to decry it. But I am afraid that like other ideals, it is more difficult to achievement than the idealists suppose, after all, the mornings are boring in proportion as the previous evenings were amusing. There will be middle age, possibly even old age at 20. Men think that life will be over at 30. Perhaps it is as unwise to spend one's vital capital as one's financial capital. Perhaps some element of boredom is a necessary ingredient in life.
And then he says later on, there are two sorts of boredom of which one is fructifying while the other is stalled. Define the fructifying kind that is the fruitful kind arises from the absence of drugs and the stultifying kind from the absence of vital activities. And of course, it's clear to explain that what applies to drugs applies also within limits to every kind of excitement. A life to full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure. A person accustomed to too much excitement. It's like a person with a morbid craving for pepper, who comes at last to be unable even to taste a quat point quantity of pepper which would cause anyone else to choke. Or we could say hot sauce. There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the invoice from the avoidance of too much excitement. And too much excitement not only undermines the health but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting tessellations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness or wisdom and jagged surprises for beauty. Certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young. He goes on to criticize the way parents raise their children long before the advent of blades the talking car in the kiddie iPad.
says a child develops best when like a young plant is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel. Too many variety of impressions are not good for the young and cause them as they grew up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony. Some of my memories of childhood are times of just nothing happening just watching rain moved on a screen looking at the frost on our Windows on insulated windows in Minneapolis. For amusement I would take a quarter and pressing against the frost make a little indentation reverse image of Thomas Jefferson. Actually I don't know if it was Thomas Jefferson back then. One final paragraph from from Russell. I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own, I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony, a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature of man in whom every vital input pulse slowly wizard withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase
right now I want to turn to something even more attuned to our lives. This is from a Buddhist scholar and teacher Stephen Batchelor visited the center maybe it was the 30th anniversary 30th and 40th We got to meet him and his wife Martine.
Not only a practitioner, but also really pretty deep philosopher least to my to my mind can we can only sort of skim through this
so he wrote a book called The Art of solitude. And he says true solitude is a way of being that needs to be cultivated. You cannot switch it on or off it will. Solitude is an art. mental training is needed to refine and stabilize. When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.
It says don't expect anything to happen. Just wait is waiting is a deep acceptance of the moment as such. Nietzsche called it Nietzsche. I called it a more 14. I'm our fatty, unquestioning love of whatever has fated you to be here. You reach a point where you're just sitting there asking, what is this? With no interest in an answer. And it's in with no compulsion for an answer, no feeling there's something that you need to grasp. The longing for an answer compromises the potency of the question. Can you be satisfied to rest in this puzzle and this perplexity in a deeply focused and embodied way? Just waiting without any expectations? Of course, what is this is the national koan of Korea. And there are a number of people here at the center who have taken this up as their practice or koan practice. What is this? What is it? But it can also be phrased as who am I? What am I ore is Mu. Just looking into our being
right now, it's like this. What is it? He says, Ask what is this and open yourself completely to what you hear in the silence that follows. Be open to this question in the same way as you would listen to a piece of music. Pay total attention to the polyphony of the birds, and wind outside the occasional plane that flies overhead, the patter of rain on a window, listen carefully. And notice how listening is not just an opening of the mind, but an opening of the heart of vital concern or care for the world. Source of what we call compassion, or love.
It goes on to say to be alone at your desk or in your studio is not enough. You have to free yourself from the phantoms and inner critics who pursue you wherever you go. It's all the all the detritus and self criticism of the thinking mind. He quotes the composer John Cage. When you start working, everybody is in your studio, the past your friends, enemies, the art world and above all your own ideas. All are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving one by one and you're left completely alone. Then, if you're lucky, even you leave
something interesting that the ancient Chan master Dawei said when there is no flavor, no interest. This is a good time. Do not abandon it
woman named Anne Lamott said almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
Says, integrate contemplative practice into life requires more than becoming proficient in techniques of meditation. It entails the cultivation and refinement of a sensibility about the totality of your existence, from intimate moments of personal anguish to the endless suffering of the world. This sensibility encompasses a range of skills, mindfulness, curiosity, understanding, collectiveness, compassion, equanimity care. Each of these can be cultivated and refined in solitude, but has little value if it cannot survive the fraught encounter with others. Never be complacent about contemplative practice. It is always a work in progress. The world is here to surprise us Most of my most lasting insights have occurred off the cushion, not on it.
Finally, he says, look long and hard enough at yourself in isolation. And suddenly you will see the rest of humanity staring back. Sustained aloneness brings you to a tipping point where the pendulum of Life returns you to others. Of course, that's the ideal in Mahayana, Buddhism. Returning to the marketplace, coming to understanding for the sake of others.
When we begin practice, very often, that's one of our first struggles, is just feeling bored on the map. How many people in their first session didn't agonize over the huge length of time that stretched out before them, especially with pain in the legs, whatever afflictions were piling up. There's something I read in preparation for this talk, which I didn't use, where a woman was assigned by her art teacher, to go to a museum in the city, I think it was Chicago, where she lived, go to the art museum, select a painting and sit there and take it in for three hours. She said after a while, she just was going out of her head and she wondered if maybe an hour had passed. So she took stole a look at her watch to find that 17 minutes had gone by. But over time, things shifted. And she began to see things in the painting because she held herself to it and kept doing it. Things occurred. Things appeared that she had noticed in the picture. Expressions, patterns repeating people find and so Sheen is what seems to be taking forever, suddenly flashes by we step outside of time when we stop looking for an escape. Someone once said If sesshin wasn't painful, it should be because that's how we learn. Same thing can be said of coming to an evening sitting and sitting for three rounds, especially 335 minute rounds. So that's a big lift in the beginning. I can remember the incredible difficulty of sitting on my own in a motel. Some of the strange situations so hard was to turn my mind to the breath
but we keep at it. And then things do change.
The art of lying fallow, fruitful monotony. The art of solitude there's a wellspring it's available to us. We don't run away from it
we take our lives seriously not too seriously. And notice, see what works and see what doesn't work. Anthony de Mello compares running off after excitements to eating junk food. I think that metaphor is used in other places too. We need wholesome food. We need to do things that we truly enjoy. And when we do something and we're left with an empty feeling, pay attention
all right. Are you long enough to stop now? Oh and recite the Four Vows you