The daily intensities of life undulate like a buoy in water. Mood vacillates. Our days fill with the rushes of our emotions, and wane only when sleep sublimates them. Schopenhauer says “life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom,” with very little in between.
Boredom is an inevitable state. At some point we will wallow in it and despise all of its opaque dimensions. It is hard to think when you are bored, hard to imagine anything but rising out of your ennui. It leads to aimless milling, hoping the passive blooms into something active. But boredom is ultimately viewed as a mire, a pit of existential limpidity.
The modern mind avoids boredom like the plague. Because of our outlets of inanity we are able to thwart boredom, although how effectively? The mechanisms we use to obscure boredom’s horizon engage us, but how meaningfully? That is a separate column.
Jim Morrison of The Doors was, among other things, a contemplative man. The sentiments he was able to exact through his lyrics fomented a generational movement towards the thinking person. Songs like “Light My Fire” and “The End” are two examples of his lyric aptitude. Whatever you think about Morrison, whether you find him to be a caricature with the musical skills of a dilettante, or a quasi-prophet who changed the landscape of American music and its duty to relevance, Morrison did take himself seriously.
I bring up Jim Morrison to draw your attention to what I think is the virtue of boredom. In the famous Doors song “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” Morrison is searching for a way to breach quotidian experience. He tells us we “Made the scene/week to week/day to day/hour to hour,” but that “the gate is straight/deep and wide/break on through to the other side.” Disparate from our own intensities, which shiver in the box of time, our days and nights form a rhythmic pattern, a compendium of “scenes” that coagulate into monotony.
William James eloquently says, “Out of time we cut “days” and “nights,” “summers” and “winters.” We say what each part of the sensible continuum is, and all these abstract whats are concepts. The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.” To refine our thoughts from percepts to concepts, from what is subjectively seen into what can be conceptually debated, is what James expounds. It is self-awareness to the highest degree.
How do we break such monotony, the habituation of time into robotic insignificance? I think one way to “break on through to the other side” is through boredom. The virtues of the mind squirming in limbo, darting and snatching at things, may be a way to stumble upon creation. Fruitful boredom (this is no different than regular boredom) finds its benefits in embrasure. We consciously avoid the quietude of boredom because it is scary. Who wants to be bored? The knee jerk answer is an affronted “no one.” But boredom is the utmost addressal of the self. We see our competing emotions and try to reorganize them in a way that spawns non-boring activity. But to see them, to “break through” them, maybe to the other side, maybe just to the flip side, is a contemplative triumph. All I am advising is that the next time boredom is beginning to set in, choke it for a second. Turn it over in front of your eyes and mark down its dimensions. They are your dimensions.
If nothing else, take this quote from Morrison, who said he likes “ ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order … about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no meaning.” Is he talking about boredom? No, he is probably stoking the massive countercultural milieu. But there are similarities — distrust, interrogation, uprising. Overturn the dry rock of your life and look at the flip side. That’s not a hallucination. You wrought those snakes.