The Basics of Boredom

We don’t leave ourselves at home when we leave the house in the morning, just as we do not leave ourselves on the cushion (or chair) when we get up from our meditation practice.   What arises during meditation practice often arises when we are miles from our cushion and busy with our day to day activities.


Because of a back injury, I have needed to find new ways of being in my life. One of the changes I have made has been to my workout routine. No more bear crawling, kettle bell swinging, or super heavy lifting. Not at the moment anyway.  It is now very basic and simple. Apparently my mind struggles with the basic and simple part.


This morning, while walking on the treadmill my mind was screaming “This is boring!!! Get off!”  It was as if the treadmill was going to eject me into the air and my mind was trying to save me from shooting through the roof of the gym.


When that didn’t get me to step off the treadmill instantly, my mind tried a new tactic. “Molly, ten minutes less wouldn’t make a big difference.  You could get off a bit early and have time to stop at the coffee shop. “A hot cup of tea would be nice,” I thought.


Honestly, I stopped the treadmill early last week. My mind probably remembered that action and thought it would try again. “You are totally right, ten minutes early doesn’t make a difference,” I agreed.

“When you pay attention to boredom it gets unbelievably interesting,” John Kabat- Zinn

Today, while engaging again with my mind in this way, I realized that I knew this voice.  I’ve heard it before while sitting in my meditation practice.


The urgency was there in the same way.  “You have so much to do today! What are you doing just sitting here?!” When that urgent voice doesn’t work, it becomes persuasive in a different way. “Just get up, ten minutes less won’t matter.”


When I first started practicing I would listen to this voice sometimes. I would get up because sitting there in this simple way was too much to bear, especially when I had so many other tasks to attend to.


When I started practicing with others, I realized I was not the only one with this urgent, irritated voice.  There is actually a term for it. The term is “hot boredom” and it isn’t separate from the practice as we often judge it to be. It is a normal and workable part of meditation practice.


Often times we come to a meditation class looking for a fancy new technique and leave thinking “That’s it!?” “That’s what all the hub-bub is about? But that is so simple!”


We often give more worth to things that are complicated; I know I do this.  And if it is simple, I will find a way to make it complicated!


I’ve learned to work with my own boredom in the same way I work with many other parts of myself that show up on the cushion. By noticing it with a light touch, and then returning to my breath.  By allowing it to show up without fighting it, bargaining with it, or indulging it I open myself to a new way of being.


So when I noticed the same voice of “hot boredom” during my work out, I decided to relate to it the same way that I would if it showed up during my practice.


If I was in pain, I would have stepped off the treadmill early. I am not talking about pushing through something no matter what.  One of the principles of meditation is learning to relate to ourselves with gentleness, and I try to bring that principle into my workouts as well.

For the past year, I have been meditating in a chair instead of a cushion on the floor.
At first, I would sit as a student in a chair but still use a cushion when on the teacher’s seat.
Cultivating gentleness toward myself during my practice has allowed me to feel comfortable also teaching from a chair.


But I was not in pain physically. So, I noticed this part of myself and leaned in a bit. I finished my workout. Contrary to what my mind was implying, I didn’t get ejected through the ceiling.


I have noticed this agitated voice showing up all over my life when my mind is not being entertained. It starts its urgent bargaining during meetings, conversations, and while waiting in line. Sometimes I see it for what it is and choose to respond to it in a new way.  Sometimes I still choose to get off the treadmill and get to the coffee shop!


When I become aware of principles of my meditation practice showing up off the cushion,  it inspires me to continue practicing.  Where do you notice your practice showing up in your life?