Responding to the conversant


Thank you for your words and for the time you gave to offer them.

Our inner life is most decidedly an escape from our inner life! This is precisely why practicing boredom is so terribly ruinous. Our life itself, the way being is, is ekstatic, is always a going-out. Boredom is a willful going-not-anywhere-at-all. It is not even a going-nowhere. That at least could danger becoming virtuous. But think on this word, escape, and think of the word itself. It tells a story, as words do. From the Latin, ex- and cappa,  “to get out of one’s own cape,” “to leave a pursuer with one’s cape.” Think of Joseph of the fantastic coat. Think also of Elisha and Elijah. Indeed. The inner life is an escape from the inner life: it is the fleeing of innocence from seduction and it is the leaving of a promised blessing for the watchful.

Now, yes, I will own I am speaking with a sort of poetic flourish. But such flourishes are how we press on that which is, how we embrace it with words. I can say, “being is ek-static” and think no more of it, and so learn little or nothing from it. It can say it repeatedly, and at some point my words get into my skin and flesh and bones and marrows. Saying “it would be more true to sit on the back porch and just to sit” behaves in like fashion. What teacher taught you this? What learning swelled your marrow? Decidedly, this is not the thinking of a Far-Westerner! We of this land–and particularly we of this land of this time, it seems–find it terribly difficult to even engage in the possibility of “just sitting.” Our activities may haunt us with the possibility that they are distractions, but they are not yet mere distractions. We are not ready for that, most of us, and that teacher is slow to arrive because of it.

Let me show that this is not all tangential. You said “it seems that reading a book and dancing the chicken dance ought to be on about the same level.” Yes! Yes, and again yes! But how are they this? It’s not, I would press, that they “are this” so much as they “can be this.” I would encourage you in the temptation you confessed, though merely because of this: I do not believe that boredom which can be enjoyed is truly boredom. At the very least, it is not quite yet–or is no longer?–that boredom which could be called a “little death.” This boredom of joy I would delight in, only I would not want to call it boredom, for the sake of avoiding confusing myself and others.

But let me say a thing more and then I will enter a silence for now and think more on this. Emmanuel Levinas makes a delightful and terrifying observation concerning boredom:

“[R]esponsibility frees the subject from boredom; it frees him from the gloomy tautology and the monotony of essence, or delivers him from the attachment in which the ‘me’ smothers itself” [Levinas, God, Death & Time, 179].

One of my concerns with the words of boredom, the language of “killing time,” is that we live like slow suicides with such words. Look here: even if you are passing the time–doing, perhaps, thing that “people do when they are bored”–if you can find yourself in this activity delighted, wondering, in pain, joyful–if you can find yourself in it, I don’t know if “boredom” is the word for it. Boredom is as though escapism par excellence, the sustained nihilism of those who learn to believe in “there is nothing worth doing” by first believing that “there is nothing to do.” There is always something to do. There is always something worth doing. Do something worthwhile on purpose, with your whole being. Sit and only sit with purpose. Read with purpose. Do not kill time. Cultivate it. Let yourself live life, even if this comes to mean sitting and only sitting. If you can be free from boredom doing nothing you can be free from it doing anything. There is no time for boredom. For distractions and escapes, yes, probably, but not for boredom.

As for philosophy: Yes, it is a distraction. But not-philosophy is equally a distraction, at least equally.  I don’t think there is a line here. I think it is a matter of intentionality. Cultivating the inner life to escape the inner life demands of us a willingness to not indulge in boredom. I do not think self-cultivation and the self-indulgence of boredom can flourish side by side. One will have the upper hand and the other the lower. One will overpower, the other will become passive. But, hello! Striving and cultivating the whole being demands, I would say, a pushing back against boredom and the indulgence in the practice of it.

I hope this does not answer your questions, at least not exactly.



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