Cultivate Presence Instead of Boredom

Zazu: What’s going on, Sire?

Mufasa: Pouncing practice, Zazu. Hold still.

Zazu: Very good, Sire – wait, what?

I have a love/hate relationship with Cal Newport. Our disagreement (which he is totally unaware of) comes in our difference of opinion about the old “follow your passion” argument. I believe honestly we simply aren’t talking about the same thing when we use the word “passion”, because many of the conclusions he comes to are things I completely agree with.

In his new book Deep Work he talks about some of the steps needed to create an environment conducive to focused work. Here’s where a lot of our views align: for example, he recommends that you cut yourself off from social media stimuli for periods of time (his version: leave your phone in the car overnight). The whole concept of “Deep Work” seems congruent with the idea of “Maker Time.”

He also suggests that you “cultivate boredom”; resist the urge to pull out your “source of endless distraction” (aka “gravy hose“) and simply endure the time spent in queues, or waiting for a site to load, or as your child tears down yet another lego castle. He suggests that this habit will lead to a better capacity to focus, to achieve greater expertise and skill in your work, and therefore a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Unfortunately, like Vizzini, I think he again is using a word that does not mean what he thinks it means. Boredom is defined as “the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest“; I don’t see how any of those states could possibly be a good thing. I agree with him that we (and yes, I definitely include myself) seem desperate to find distraction any time there’s a chance our mind will be left to its own devices…I simply disagree that it’s boredom that we’re scared of.

Zen monk and author Cheri Huber, on her practice blog, talks about the need for stillness as the first step towards presence:

I have faith. I trust that this will grow into insight, clarity, compassion, wisdom, freedom, and joy. It doesn’t seem as if just sitting down will lead to all that; it’s hard even to imagine such a possibility. But sit I do, and silent I am…

…What you may not be noticing however—what egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate desperately wants you not to notice—is that insight, incrementally, is occupying more and more of your attention and awareness.

Insight is expanding into a larger experience of presence in life. (emphasis added)

In short, while I agree with the methods of Mr. Newport, I entirely disagree with the underlying motivations. We shouldn’t try to be bored – that’s easy. Perhaps even cowardly. Instead, we should try to be present – a much more scary and difficult task. But possibly the most worthwhile practice we could ever cultivate.

Don’t hold boredom. Hold still.

What’s been your experience of presence vs. boredom? Let us know in the comments, or send it on to a friend – could lead to some really great discussion!

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