Boredom and His Sister, Loneliness

Boredom has been described as the common cold of the psyche. I think we all have a fear of boredom even though we may not be aware of it. A lot of people would say they are so busy they don’t have time to be bored. While that may be true for parents of teens, for instance, I also think that we keep ourselves busy and distracted so we won’t have to face boredom. If you think the fear of boredom is not an issue for you, think of how you would react if you were faced with five days alone in a cabin without TV, radio, computers, phones, books or games.

Then there is boredom’s sister, Loneliness. If boredom is a psychic cold, loneliness is pneumonia. Loneliness is our internal fear of being unloved or uncared for, and deeper than that, it is a fear of death. I’ve worked hard to avoid loneliness and boredom and yet, ironically, the very things I do to cover these feelings can make them worse. The loneliest places for me are relationships where love is scarce, and busy jobs in which there was little connection or meaning. It requires a double denial of my soul to stay in those situations and not confront my fears.

Being able to be comfortably alone and not busy means we are satisfied with ourselves as companions and that we do not have to be busy in order to have meaning in our lives; both of which are counter cultural, no matter what life stage we are in. It requires inner depth to be able to say that we are happy with our own company and yet not have to be fiercely independent either. So if we expect someone else to make us happy, or if we deliberately shut others out in order to be happy we are on a dangerous path.

In my experience, the reason why I stay so busy and fill my life with activity is that when I stop doing things I have to come face to face with myself. Arrrgh. I start to think about my work stress or my unfinished relationship issues. My fears see an opportunity to sneak in. I remember some pain from the past. My fantasies about another kind of life emerge or my anger gets kindled. I get hungry in order to fill the void. These are all parts of my shadow seeking my attention. One of my friends says that when she gets quiet her evil twin comes to visit. These occurrences can be frightening and, if we have no way to deal with them in a healing way, they can drive us back to the mind-numbing activities that cause stress, illness and soul disease.

I try to use boredom and loneliness as barometers. I get most bored when I am doing things that fill time and do not enhance my life. A few things on my list are TV sitcoms, shopping, meetings, parties with people I don’t know, any “shoulds,” chit chatting and leadership responsibilities.

I entertain loneliness when I am in a vulnerable time in my life, in major transitions or under emotional stress. Holidays are a prime occasion for Sister Lonely to visit me. When I sink into loneliness, it is usually because I feel as if people will not be there for me or do not love me. What a trap that is! Left to my own devices I react to loneliness and boredom with my usual self-numbing activities.

Through my spiritual work, I now see boredom and loneliness as calls for me to go deeper with God. About the only thing that reminds me that there are more viable options is if I sit down in a favorite chair and bring all of my issues to God. I tell God the truth in my journal. I pour it all out in a litany of sadness and self-pity and vulnerability. I cry. I scream. But once I tell the truth, the truth informs me. When I start to really face my issues in God’s presence, I begin to trust that God will lead me to the next decision or insight or action. One of my friends seeks calm by reciting her favorite attributes of God; a rock, her Beloved, a mother hen, a safe haven. Focusing on God and inviting God into my pain are antidotes to loneliness. I can lean on God while still honoring loneliness and boredom as my gifted teachers.

Once I could understand loneliness as an invitation to embrace my fears in life, and see it as a gift, loneliness introduced me to her cousin, Solitude. Solitude is the ability to be alone, even in a crowd, and feel nourished from within, from oneself and from God. When I am in solitude I can be alone for extended periods and have creative, restful things to do that nourish my life. I can find the things that I genuinely enjoy and that do not just fill up time. Two of these, for me, are baseball and quilting. They are very different but that is part of the joy for me, entering different worlds that are equally life-giving.

In solitude I can reach out to friends because I genuinely care about them, not because I need to be needed or because I need to have them rescue me (although sometimes I do ask for rescue if I need it!). In solitude I can look at my memories or unhealed areas and see them as new challenges that God will help me to deal with because I will never be alone or abandoned by God. In solitude I can see and breathe in the beauty around me. I can hear the music of nature in my neighborhood and appreciate it more fully, even the sirens☺ I can listen. I can rest. I can be restored.

In solitude I can meet God in a deeper and more intimate way. I do not look to others to make me happy or to feel loved. I look to God. Ironically, when I do this, look to God for my inner fulfillment, it turns out that others also love me more. That came as a big surprise. And another surprise: when my demons rise, as they do when I slow down, I find that angels are there too, accompanying my demons. The angels are there to help me do the work that is calling to me in my solitude. I do not have to do this work alone. And then little miracles happen; a friend calls, I get a personal card in the mail, I get another idea for an essay, I find a poem I love, I finish a quilt and feel deep joy, the sun shines in my window. Best of all, I calm down deep within so I am more available for God.

And that makes my whole life a sacred adventure…

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay
When do you get bored and why?

What are your mind-numbing ways to cover boredom?

How does loneliness affect you—what happens?

What demons rise for you when you are not busy or you are vulnerable?

How have you taken these issues to God?

How do you experience solitude differently from boredom or loneliness?

How will you cultivate Loneliness’ cousin Solitude?