Make Room for “Fruitful Monotony”

I set out at the beginning of this year with the intention of writing about each of the 16 objectives mentioned in the Brainpickings article that includes this “elevating resolution.”  In this one, site author Maria Poppova talks about mathematician, Russell Bertrand’s writings in defense of boredom.

“I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own;” Logician and Mathematician Russel Bertrand writes in his book, The Conquest of Happiness. “I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony.” Written in 1930, Bertrand even gets a surprisingly prescient dig in about my current pet peeve, ADHD, short-attention-span, screen-addicted fragile-flowers… “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.” Ain’t it the truth, ain’t it the truth?!?

Bertrand talks about instilling the patience to endure boredom which he calls “fruitful monotony” into children’s upbringing. When my kids were learning to sleep through the night, we called it learning to self-soothe. I think however, that even someone at the advanced age of 59 like me, can learn to self-sooth as well. To not only endure, but welcome boredom, and eventually benefit from cultivating this core capacity. We all need to unplug, and take a walk.

Think about cultivating boredom in terms of your art, or hobby, or even your relationships. You paint/write/ spend time with your sweetie because you enjoy them, you enjoy the practice. You don’t want to be all ‘adrenalin junky’ about achieving only an end result. Think instead…

  • Enjoy the hunt/chase
  • It’s not the destination, it’s the journey

If you’re doing something you enjoy, then there is no end result, there is only the process. And tell me if this is as true about you as it is about me – sometimes you just hit a wall, you lose interest in whatever you’re doing and quit. Right?

There is much to be said about staying with your project/practice/routine long enough to discover what is on the other side of that wall. My creative writing professor called this ‘writing to and through the dragon.’ This is going to sound backward, but go with me on this… 

If you embrace your boredom, you rob it of it’s power over you.

Think of it like facing your fears. Like doing that thing that scares you the most. If you are afraid of heights, and you push yourself to look over that ledge, or take the elevator to the 49th floor, or climb that mountain, gradually your fear of those places decreases. Similarly, if you constantly try to find something to entertain yourself, constantly fearing boredom, that urge will eventually dominate you. You need to stare down that thing which dominates you, and conquer it.

I’ve been working on my passions over the past year. Trying to establish a practice, if you will, in writing, yoga, meditation, keeping up with the housework… OK that last one isn’t a passion, but you get the picture. Establishing a practice is dangerously close to establishing a routine, and we all know that a routine is fraught with boredom. But – AHA! Here we have Bertrand’s point, paraphrased by my professor – work to AND THROUGH the boredom dragon. With anything, there will be boredom, but maybe, just maybe, boredom might be the doorway to “inventiveness and imaginative play” the lost joy of learning.

Thanks for visiting!

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