Thursday, October 17, 2019

My Monkey Mind 

"N is for Neville who died of ennui" from Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

I recently heard a radio documentary about boredom and yes, the benefits of this misunderstood “universal emotion". I felt vindication. For most of my life when I felt boredom, I leaned into it. I always felt slighted by the expression that a smart person is never really bored. I feel boredom and secretly love it. Boredom remains a place where my mind wanders like a stroll in a tranquil forest. It’s where my day dreams live. I think of boredom as different from ennui which seems like a melancholic trap or from tedium which is more like anaesthesia for the brain.

Allow me to explain. There is a kind of sad boredom, when nothing interests you, you are interested in nothing, you can’t think of anything worth doing and even if you could, you wouldn’t do it. It’s like being trapped inside an empty house on a rainy day. It’s dark and listless. That for me is ennui.

Then there is the boredom of a simple, repetitive and wholly unchallenging task. Not so simple as sweeping a floor or sanding a piece of wood which can be very meditative, but not interesting enough to require much, if any, brain activity. This is tedium. I find this often happens at work. Not that my job is tedious, but it can be. Very tedious. During this kind of boredom it is very, very difficult for me to maintain something that passes for wakefulness or consciousness. It is very frustrating.

Separate from those kinds of boredom is a warm, comforting boredom. It is faint, it is light and my mind takes leave from the world. This is when doodling is precious, untethered and associative and it is very similar to that swoon you feel just before you fall asleep when the mind takes flights of fancy and wildly unconnected ideas float and collide like airy soap bubbles on a summer day. Evocative and new ideas arise from nothing and answers once sought and forgotten appear straightforward and clear.

Buddhist teachings refer to the “Monkey Mind” as a state of restlessness, confusion or unsettled thought. An aim of meditation is to tame that monkey. Many times if I’m anxious about how many things I have to do or the fear of oversleeping and missing a flight, I’ll find it impossible to sleep or to focus. I cannot quieten the monkey that is my mind. Yet boredom is my meditation. Sometimes my mind is a laughing monkey. Other times my mind is a napping monkey and I have learned to listen without distraction to its purring golden breath.



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