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The Art of Boredom, or How to Heal from Overstimulation in the Modern World

We’re always doing something. It’s almost counter-intuitive to be sitting idle in a world that places so much emphasis on activity. We text our friends while crossing the streets. We check our emails while standing in a queue. We watch the latest movie on our phones while returning home on the train. We catch up on Instagram during our short walk to the restroom. We answer phones during meetings only to tell the caller we’re in a meeting. When we work on our laptops, the constant notifications pull us into checking the next thing, the immediate thing, or the parallel thing we must and should be doing. Our hands need to constantly hold our phones. Our ears need to be wirelessly plugged in case we miss a phone call. An over-stimulated world has become our everyday reality. This over-stimulated, modern world comes at the cost of our cognitive senses. While several studies have time and again proved that multitasking is a delusion, the modern workspace takes pride in that and lists down “ability to multitask” as one of the desired skills in a candidate. Where does that leave those of us who are overwhelmed with this overstimulation? But first, why are humans so addicted to being stimulated all the time?

In the Buddhist philosophy, all suffering is a form of resistance to reality. This begs the question what are we resisting. When we look at our daily habits that lead to constant cognitive stimulation, it makes us wonder why we need to be mentally or physically accompanied everywhere. Why do we need our phones in our hands? Why do we need to run through our Instagram feed again when we just did that three minutes ago? The answer pulsating beneath our habits is that we are all fundamentally alone. And perhaps this loneliness is uncomfortable. So much so that we’re willing to enslave ourselves to mere tools of convenience. The world is so overly stimulated by technological devices that the mere act of putting our phone away for a few minutes is an act of revolution.

Perhaps putting our phone away could be a start. And those of us who are highly sensitive people (HSPs), and even those of us who claim to be multitaskers can benefit from checking if we are showing signs of overstimulation.

  1. Mental Fatigue: Overstimulation can be mentally exhausting. We lose patience, or get angry or cry easily. We find it difficult or even impossible to process information.

  2. Physical Fatigue: We don’t get good sleep even if we sleep for eight or more hours. We feel drained and our body aches.

  3. Decreased Concentration: Our brains don’t have sensory filters. When we’re so used to scrolling through heaps of data on the internet, our brains find it really difficult to suddenly focus on something when required. We’re overloaded with news, fake news, rumours, memes, reels, and our brains are tired.

  4. Increased Anxiety: Feeling anxious feels like an automatic response. With constant stimulation, our brains are always in a reaction mode and our bodies are constantly moving between fight and flight responses.

We go through all this suffering because we don’t want to be bored. Boredom occurs when our brains cannot find a way to fill time. We get restless, and before we know it we’re watching Instagram Reels again, emotion-less. The chain of overstimulation is just a trick to refrain us from the opportunity boredom presents – solitude. We don’t want to be alone for we don’t want to confront existential truth. “We are cheating ourselves when we run away from the ambiguity of loneliness,” says Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. Perhaps it’s boredom and its ceaseless companion, loneliness, that will steer us towards living more creative, mindful and meaningful lives. 

Here are a few things you can do to counter an overly stimulated world. 

  1. Do nothing for five minutes: Sit in silence. Look at the world around you. When you sense a thought overtaking the moment, simply drop it. Sit doing nothing. Sit with the discomfort of doing nothing.

  2. Do one thing at a time: When you pick up a task to do, let’s say you’re to write an email to a client, close all the other tabs on your browser and only focus on what you want to say to your client. When you’re walking from the car park to your office, simply walk and drop any thoughts of how the day will go or whether you even like the job or not. Just walk.

  3. Be slow and deliberate: When the world is going so fast, we all may sometimes feel like hustlers. But we don’t have to hustle everything every time. Don’t do a “working lunch”. Your body deserves to gain nourishment from food that’s eaten in a stress-free environment. Take your lunch break and eat slowly, deliberately chewing your food as if it were the most important task of the work day. 

  4. Add pauses to your day: You don’t have to answer the phone the second it rings. Leave some space between the call and your response to the call. Breathe for five seconds, centre yourself and then answer. 

  5. Disconnect from technology: During your commute, put your phone away in your bag. Experience what it feels like to not listen to the urge to check the phone. When we’re constantly surrounded by technology, we don’t hear our thoughts. Let your phone-free commute be an opportunity to clear your head. If spennding an evening at the shopping mall is too stimulating for you with its shop lights and colours, take a walk in the an urban forest or a neighbourhood park. 

There are a lot of things we can do to heal ourselves from the effects of overstimulation. Letting ourselves be bored in the present moment – whether we’re commuting, waiting in the queue, cooking, trying to sleep, or eating alone – can open doors of discovery of the self. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says “You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.” 

Resisting boredom is an automatic response to growing up in an overly stimulated world. However, when we allow ourselves to be bored, we encourage our ability to find our spiritual footing as we explore the relationship between us and the mundane present moment. By befriending this boredom and loneliness, we may begin to find ourselves finally living as compared to rushing.

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