In photography, boredom is a barrier to seeing. It strikes when we identify with the opposite, the unwanted side of our self. It is the self that no longer feels challenged or satisfied by workshops, competition, new techniques, new software, new cameras, and new accessories. They have, of course, their place but when they lose their magic we feel deflated and unsupported.
When our expectations are violated, we are hit hard and are at a loss of what to do. We are searching for something but don’t know where or what to look for. We become “bored to death”, so to speak, and feel trapped. However, this kind of disillusionment is a blessing in disguise. Why? Because it is possible to live with boredom and see it as a challenge to be worked with.
How should we handle the distaste for boredom ?
Our society avoids boredom because it has no use for it. We treat it like dirt – matter out of place. Little is written about it.
Boredom is the truth knocking at one’s door. We have the choice of either opening that door or trying to keep it shut.
Joseph Brodsky, a Nobel laureate of literature, makes a strong case for throwing this door wide open. The title of his essay is In Praise of Boredom (in On Grief and Reason). It is good advice but difficult to follow. He tells us to go for it, to let yourself be crushed by boredom, to let it squeeze you and to endure it as long as you can. And “belief your pain”, he reminds us because “it is no mistake”. Brodsky sees the potential in boredom, the possibility for a positive turnaround. Realizing one’s insignificance changes the perspective on one’s existence. How true that is! He knows learning about one’s size brings insight and humility.
The practice of contemplation is no less radical than Brodsky’s approach but it is more in tune with the intermittent flow of boredom. We go with this flow. The emphasis is on ‘allowing’ boredom to be, on letting it happen. We do not force or will anything. ‘Allowing’ is not a passive but an active process, requiring an alert and attentive mind. It means not rejecting boredom, but becoming one with it – with its absence of stimulation, with no affirmation of the self. If we persist in staying with this process of allowing, we set the stage for ‘seeing’ without interference by one’s ego-self – without identifying with it. We see through boredom and begin to experience and perceive the world directly – from a different viewpoint.
Boredom has no cure but we can deal with it creatively and no longer need to avoid it. There always will be periods that are dry and boring. They will serve us as constant reminders that ‘seeing clearly’ is work in progress.