Psychologist Rollo May (1909-1994) wrote quite a bit on the issues of our existence as human beings, especially subjects such as anxiety and emptiness. In his book Man’s Search for Himself, he calls the 20th century the “age of emptiness”. Before the age of emptiness the focus was more on making a name for one’s self (mostly financially), living by a set of universal values, and moving through life with a stiff upper lip. As our world has changed, this way of being no longer served us well. We no longer live by the same values or any at all, we’ve learned that just making it financially is not the answer, and we are forced more than ever to be more in tune with our emotions. There is more stress, more challenges and more complexities to our current society, to the point we can no longer ignore our emotions – we need a compass point. If one does not have a set of conscious values they live by, don’t understand their own emotions and need to, and realize that their purpose needs to be more than making money, that person will most definitely feel empty. They will also be bored.
If you watch the Dog Whisperer, you’ll know that often times the issue with some of these dogs is that they are bored. What the Dog Whisperer means is that they are not busy being a dog – instead, they are caged inside a house like another ornament and begin to go stir-crazy. These dogs eventually have pent up energy (anxiety) they cannot burn off and they no longer live the life of a dog. When the Dog Whisperer gets the owners to vigorously exercise their dogs as well as treat them more like dogs, these dogs are relieved. Sometimes he will bring other dogs to help rehabilitate these struggling dogs because being in a pack amazingly impacts the re-identification of dog.
I believe our sense of boredom works similarly to dogs. We have some universal things as humans that we need in order to reduce our anxieties, but more importantly, each individual has ways of being in the world that give him/her meaning/purpose/joy. A lot of times we focus on the big things here like career, family, or religion, but I want to focus on the smaller things that help with boredom, that help to bring us back to ourselves.
What brings you back to your Self? I know for myself, music is very important. Whether it is listening to music I love or playing some on the guitar, it always brings me back to myself. Music has a grounding effect on me and many other people. Another way to describe what I am talking about is to understand what feeds our soul. Comforts. Rituals. It might be a walk everyday, it might be going to a bookstore, it might be going for a drive, it might be writing a poem, it might be going out into the bush and four-by-fouring, or it might be knitting. This post is somewhat similar to my post on rejuvenation but it is not the same. I am talking here about doing the things that feed on us on a more regular basis. Many people get away from doing the things they love, or as I’ve said earlier, the things that bring us back to ourselves.
Sometimes we get in relationships and we stop doing certain hobbies that made us feel alive and whole. We stopped them and started doing what our partner liked doing. This is not all bad, but when we stop those things we stop being us. Sometimes we have to look back to our childhoods for things we loved doing. Maybe there is a way to do the same thing or a grown-up version. You might think to yourself, “that’s just silly, I can’t do that as an adult!” Who says!
Boredom is not all bad. We allow our children to get bored so that they experience the need for creativity. If we run to the rescue of our children when they are bored, they will always need us to know what they want, they will never learn to be creative. The same is true for us in our lives as adults. We sometimes need to experience boredom in order to be moved by the anxiety into doing something that feeds us. The problem is that emptiness is what gets experienced, and not what I would call healthy boredom. We experience boredom as emptiness and hurry to fill it (sometimes this is actually emptiness but we need to know the difference). We feel some amount of anxiety and run toward something to make it go away. This is one reason for all our addictions and obsessions. They quickly become antidotes to our emptiness or boredom when what we need is soul food. We need to listen long enough to the boredom to know what it is calling for. Or we continue practicing the things that keep us feeling like ourselves and we might just never get bored.
Some more possibilities of soul rituals: playing an instrument, working on the car, cultivating a garden, cooking, playing a sport, going for long walks, playing with your children, singing in a choir, spending time with close friends, reading, going to your favorite restaurant, buying clothing that makes you feel more like yourself, exploring nature more regularly, riding a bike, service work/volunteering, going fishing/hunting, climbing a tree, swinging, finding time to be intimate with your partner, sleep, journaling, and the list goes on.
When you come up against boredom or emptiness, what is your soul calling out for. I am meaning soul in the sense that Thomas Moore uses it – not an eternal soul, but the earthy, grounded, everyday part of you that is unique and has interests, passions, tastes, and pleasures that keep you going. What we might call the little things. What are those for you? What might you need to start doing again to help bring a sense of fulfillment to your life, even if it’s the smallest thing?