A few days have passed since the lockdown was announced. We’re all counting days, talking about a life post-pandemic, spending our time making future plans of what we’re going to do once the worst has passed, waiting to see which restaurants will see hordes of people stuffing their faces with anything that’s not home-made food, which companies will witness a spike in sales for things we don’t need. If anything, self-isolation has been unrelenting in its pursuit of teaching us to live without things we thought we needed.
The current scenario has aggressively dismantled the very structures on which we built systems to keep us going. Our lifestyles are heavily influenced by new-age media, the increasing effect of capitalism, of a desperate need to always be ‘doing’ something. Social media will tell you to never give up, to always keep striving towards your goal, to sacrifice sleep if you ever want to accomplish anything. Ever since college days, I’ve kept myself occupied with more than I could handle. While staying busy in this day and age is a blessing (this is also a man-made construct), I no longer know how to deal with boredom. I do not know what to do with this ennui. People, in order to avoid feeling bored, attempt things that are bizarre as much as they are unnecessary. Our need to always have something to do, whether mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, or binge-watching a show for the 20th time, or killing ourselves over jobs that are impermanent, have created a disconnect from the self. It’s worrying how even during a pandemic we’re supposed to be working, keeping our productivity at optimum levels, making sure we’re still ticking things off our list, that failure to finish said tasks sends us spiralling deep down into an abyss of guilt and self-doubt. Why can’t we sit in our rooms without distraction? How long can we go without checking our phone before we combust into meaninglessness? Why is there a continuous need for incentive? The need to overcome our inherent existential crisis often manifests through over-indulgence in any form of stimulation. Social psychologist and philosopher, Eric Fromm believes boredom to be ‘the most important source of aggression and destructiveness’. According to him, our constant search for thrill, for adventure, for anything to fill this huge hole in our lives, is not a solution but merely a distraction. We’re going around in circles to attain the unattainable.
The word ‘boredom’ was used by Charles Dickens, as an emotional state, in his serial, Bleak House. That was the first-time boredom was described as a state of being, although the word ‘boredom’ originated way back. It wasn’t till the 19th century that scientists started taking an interest in this weirdly existential phenomena of nothingness. The 21st century or the ‘pop culture’ era can shrug this feeling of as ‘meh’. Anything that is dull or tedious or which single-handedly brings down the energy level is MEH.
But is boredom lethal? I think not. As Jenny Odell, author of, How To Do Nothing, writes, ‘I consider “doing nothing” both as a kind of deprogramming device and as sustenance for those feeling too disassembled to act meaningfully’. Odell’s book aims to disengage people from the attention economy, to curb economic insecurity, and help realize the potential of doing nothing. Being at home, it’s natural to feel bored. It may exacerbate feelings of existential anxiety but doing nothing is as essential as productivity. When you start acknowledging the stillness as equally important to your life without assigning any deep-rooted bias, these feelings wither, they change shape, and you begin to feel as if a weight has been lifted, helping you further to stay afloat.
We’re going through an unprecedented time where our resources are being stretched, human lives are being lost and put at risk, and our economy is on the verge of collapse. Perhaps, during this time, not doing anything is how we cope. We cope by sitting by ourselves, staring into the night-sky as it transforms into morning light, we cope by watching how our neighbors spend their evenings crowding on their terrace, and we talk to our family—we notice how our parents seem to be drifting into the inevitability of ageing, we watch our siblings, who are still in school, deal with a crisis not part of their curriculum, and we observe. We pay attention to how humans are adapting to change, how the will to keep moving forward surpasses the unpredictability of our lives and we learn. We learn to shed our inhibitions, we unlearn societal constructs of prejudice, of class, of color. We learn to just be. When all this is over, and it’ll be over soon, let’s hope we wear the feeling of nothingness as second skin, embracing it and letting it sit with us.