The abiding stillness of boredom

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Last year I spent a lovely weekend in the forest at Pench. It was a forest bathed in brown dust and a searing landscape with the sun beating down on the sunscreen and sliding it across the curve of my head and into the corners of my eye. Roaming around the forest and watching animals quietly go about their lives had a calming influence on me.

During the trip I read an engaging book about the way money has grown from a utility for trade into a monstrous cult that dictates large parts of our lives. There was a striking quote in the book that caught my attention, it was an extract from a commencement address to the class of 89 at Dartmouth College by the Russian American writer & poet Joseph Brodsky, which drew an arc across how consumerism exploited deep seated human anxieties and changes in society.

“You will be bored with your work, your spouses, your lovers, the view from your window, the furniture or wallpaper in your rooms, your thoughts, yourselves …. You’ll try to devise ways of escape. Apart from … self-gratifying gadgets … you may take up changing jobs, residence, company, country, climate, you may take up promiscuity, alcohol, travel, cooking lessons, drugs, psychoanalysis … you may lump them together … for a while that may work. Until the day .. when you wake up … with a heap of bills from your travel agent and your shrink, yet with the same stale feeling toward the light of day pouring through your window.”

The words are stark and have a seductive and haunting appeal of their own and they capture our varied responses to the fleeting nature of time. Anybody who has lived long enough with some degree of existential doubt would at some point probably hit this realization – that the world as described to us and as experienced by us are two different things.

Given that Brodsky spoke to young and eager college students, he did try and provide some sage advice – though shorn of the candy floss optimism and helpless hope with which the strangeness of life in the modern world is often collectively confronted and shared. The gist of the 6 pieces of advice is summarized below:

  1. Be precise with your language
  2. Be kind to your parents
  3. Try to not expect too much from Politicians
  4. Be modest and don’t try to stand out
  5. Avoid granting yourself the status of the victim
  6. Try not to pay attention to those that will make life miserable for you

More details on this speech are available on https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/12/18/joseph-brodsky-speech-at-the-stadium-commencement/.  Not advice I would readily endorse, since most of what is said and shared arises from our inability to understand who we are and all the errors that arise as a consequence. But even half-truths have their relevance until the truth is discovered, particularly when shared by a poet.

At times, delving deep into the experience of one’s own life – allows us to break out of the cages of our own false expectations and impressions of who we are and what life is. It could be any of the ordinary things that we all do, that briefly make room for us to have an authentic experience of who we are – through an immersion into our bonds with people or contradictions within ourselves, through the way we prepare ourselves to eat, the way we weave oceans of detail into cogency and the joy on the rare moments when that spurs action, the way we fold our clothes and place them in the cupboard shelf or sit quietly and  listen to another person share the story of their hopes and fears.

Until at some point, what Brodsky refers to as an interminable ennui sets in. But I assume this experience, which he cynically views as a barren boredom, can also fork away into an abiding stillness.  When we have enough life experience behind us to occasionally watch our life drama unfold without too much thought or agitation, when we are less caught up by who we are and more present towards what is, quietly aware of the flow of life around us.

The stale feeling toward the light pouring through your window, can be a powerful moment of truth. But as we silently watch, the staleness fades away and the moment remains around the light pouring through the window. Thoughts and silence both coexist within us, but it’s the small silences that energise us, remove the adjectives from our lives and fill it with an embracing calmness.

When I drive through the forest, I am processing the naturalist’s words as he names each tree and bird that we see. And then I just watch and enjoy taking in the sights and smells of the forest and it’s a totally different experience.

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13 Replies to “The abiding stillness of boredom”

  1. So beautifully written. There’s a sense of quiet and stillness in all your prose Anand. The natural state of the Self is bliss. The practices of not just meditation and chanting but also contemplation help clean the dust of chatter and experiences that cakes it. May you meditate and have spacious silences to experience that and know it always. And may you always keep putting it down in words in your amazing blog so we are reminded of this:)

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  2. What an elegant debut, Anand 🙂 I can actually picture us, sitting across your gorgeous dining table, and listening to you say this. I particularly liked how you take us beyond Brodsky – while declining to endorse his view, to share the inevitability and importance of reflection. And do the same with the naturalist. I agree with you about the Blog’s site address, but I would not worry overmuch about it. Keep writing.

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  3. Beautiful Anand! This is a lovely beginning to your blog appropriately titled ‘Ananda Only’! A prose which is a perfect reflection of the gentle meanderings of a mind.
    The forest,the animals and the silent trees with the light and shade playing among their branches, is a sure fire way for us to stop, take a step back and introspect. Delve deep into ourselves.The silent and completely content consciousness of the trees and animals will but sooner or later invoke within ourselves the same. So many hours have I spent in the jungle, and so many hours have I just sat and watched the play of nature around me. And I have never gotten tired of it. This is what, perhaps, we are seeking, these small little silences filled with the primeval sense of what we once were, what we are really still, deep down within us.
    Keep on writing. I’ll love to read more from you.

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  4. Very well said, Anand. I agree – though afflicted with existential crisis, two things always make my heart & mind soar and bring a smile – sunlight and blue skies! It’s just that sometimes we forget to look. I want a retirement home in the mountains to soak in all the happiness:)

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  5. Really enjoyed reading it Anand! Thank you. Read it in rapt silence influenced, perhaps, by the overtones of the titles ‘Ananda Only’ and ‘The Abiding Stillness…”. And it was a joyous stillness. Loved the descriptions of the forest and sitting by the window. And the ensuing contemplation. “Most of what is said and shared arises from our inability to understand who we are and all the errors that arise as a consequence. But even half-truths have their relevance until the truth is discovered, particularly when shared by a poet”. Stints of energising silence can certainly help raise one’s awareness into a blissful detached state of equipoise, shorn of ennui and sought after in repeats

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  6. I am grateful that your blog arrived in my inbox. It gave me the opportunity to get still…to sit and also stop listening to Mooji, whom I adore, and yet enough is enough. Your blog reminds me that I don’t need anything to be happy, and actually the acquisition of things/experiences can lead to unhappiness, especially if there is a pile of bills to be paid. Those of us who don’t have that pressure are truly blessed. I for one appreciate being of an age where I more and more love who I am. “I am” and that is enough. Sat nam, and namaste!

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  7. Anand anna! Beautifully written. You do have a way with words. It is, perhaps, a coincidence that I have been having similar conversations with friends and colleagues on: our purpose in life; what are we here for? We had a similar epiphany that “money has grown from a utility for trade into a monstrous cult that dictates large parts of our lives”. As much as silence and meditation can help me with introspection, I find it incredibly difficult to slow down my thoughts. I recently expressed that I felt like I was looking at my life as if it was happening to someone else since I feel I am reacting to life and not living it.

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  8. Beautifully written Anand. I can feel your conviction coming through. The joy of silent and aware moments, lived close to yourself. And the oneness with the outside world. I also liked the ” empty space between stillness and silence ” – a space from where all our growth and insights seem to emanate.

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  9. Lovely piece of insight, love of nature and and being ‘touched’ by the unseen and the untouched. Looking forward to reading more.

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  10. Money the cult and the lawfulness to follow it – both have us all gripped to gag. But words and thoughts like Brodsky, you and all of us among each other that bring worth to life. Keep this up Anand, I am in bliss reading each one.

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