Boredom is as foreign to me as modesty to Anthony Weiner. I’m not complaining. The absence of boredom is a profound blessing. Musing about boredom (which, by the way, is not boring) made me wonder why it is absent from my life. It also made me wonder if I have any wisdom to share with you all, especially those with rambunctious bored children. So yes, I have some insights that might help.
The demise of boredom began in my childhood. When I first tell people I am an only-child, they often look at me askance, as if beholding some freak of nature. It’s one of those millisecond reactions people try to conceal but slips out before they can hide it. People are even more incredulous when I go on to tell them my wife has seven siblings, as if wondering how our marriage could possibly work. Granted, there can be a lot of selfishness in us only-children. It can take a lifetime to overcome the feeling that the universe revolves around me. But before I ramble off track, here is an observation you might find helpful.
In the bygone era of my childhood, children (especially those old enough to ride a bike) were often expected to entertain themselves. Yes this meant more trips to hospital emergency rooms for stitches and to set broken bones, but it also resulted in an entire generation growing up with less susceptibility to boredom. Today, children are in multiple after-school and summer activities like baseball, soccer, hockey, guitar lessons, karate, piano lessons, camp; whatever will keep them occupied and out of trouble. Parents hover over their child’s every move.
As an only-child growing up in that bygone era, I occasionally felt utterly alone. Don’t feel sorry for me. I learned to amuse myself, to dream and be creative in play. I became keenly aware of the natural world around me. I built forts in trees. I rode my bike to throw rocks in nearby ponds. I waded and swam in muddy creeks. I discovered secrets under rocks and in the branches of trees. And I made friends with neighbor kids.
I was also fortunate because my dad spent time with me in just the right increments. For instance, he would take me fishing, but more than that he taught me the harmony of fishing. You see, non-fishers think fishing is about putting a worm on a hook, throwing it into the water, and endlessly waiting for a fish to bite. No, no, no! Fishing is about studying the weather and seasons. Is it too windy, too hot, or too cold? Is it cloudy or sunny? Is the moon full at night? Successful fishing is really about the accumulation of knowledge. Knowing hot weather drives some fish into deeper water. Knowing fish usually feed in the early morning or at dusk. Knowing what species of fish inhabit the waters where you fish. It’s talking to other fishermen to find out what the fish are biting. It’s studying water depth, color, clarity, and currents. It’s reading books and magazines about fishing and knowing the correct gear to use. It’s about placing the right bait in the right place at the right time of day in the correct season.
What does this have to do with boredom? I’m getting there. To fish like a Zen master requires clearing the mind and eliminating distractions. When I fish, it is only me, the rod, and the almost invisible filament of line snaking out into the water. All my focus is on the tip of the rod and the feel of the line running across my finger. Here’s the secret: there is an entire world of fish just under the surface of the water. One of them could take the bait at any second. No worries, no racing thoughts, it all fades away and there is just me, the rod, and the line waiting for something exciting to happen. Ohhhhhhmmmmmmm! I could sit for hours in that blissful state of mind waiting for something exciting to happen. I’ve caught enough fish to confirm that the wait is worth it. When a fish strikes, there’s a thrill that runs up the line, down the rod, through your arm, and into your brain.
I can’t fully explain why, but once I experienced complete focus in anticipation of something exciting (through fishing), boredom was no longer a problem. You see, all of life is the anticipation of something. God created this spectacular world full of fascinating critters, humans, and seasons. The anticipation of even simple discoveries is exciting when life is approached with innocence. That’s a profundity that merits repeating: The anticipation of even simple discoveries is exciting when life is approached with innocence.
Too often we get addicted to elaborate entertainments so that our mind and heart requires ever more complex or voluminous diversions.
Your path to innocence doesn’t have to be fishing. I’m sure there are many activities that mimic fishing’s focus and anticipation. But parents, maybe too many activities do more harm than good. Maybe it’s better to search for the right activity instead of throwing legions of activities at bored little minds. You’ll recognize the right activity when it happens because your child will eventually begin to display an uncanny focus and desire for more of the activity. Parents should not give up on an activity too soon. I spent hours testing my dad’s patience by horsing around on the bank of the pond and throwing rocks in the water before I figured out the harmony of fishing.
Oh, and don’t be afraid to tell your children GO FIND SOMETHING TO DO, and let the creative juices flow . . . within reason. Unfortunately we no longer live in a society where many parents can turn their children loose to roam the neighborhood or play in fields and woods. It’s simply too dangerous. But you can encourage your child to be creative in play and help them find an activity that resonates in their soul.