I first learned to meditate more than forty-five years ago and I’ve been meditating fairly regularly since. People have asked me if I get bored while meditating. My answer to that is an unqualified “no” — I find meditation as interesting and fresh as ever, perhaps even more so.
Fritz Perls, who helped popularize Gestalt Psychology, said “boredom is a lack of attention.” We can never have a lack of attention in meditation — the moment attention wanes, meditation slips away. Meditation is paying attention. I sometimes think of meditation as like whitewater canoeing. That may seem a strange analogy, but what they have in common is they both require one’s full attention.
Rather than paying attention, though, I should say giving attention. Our attention is nothing like cash, our reserves of which diminish as we use it. Our reserve of attention is not diminished in being used, but enhanced — giving attention pays interest.
Attention is not a commodity that can be bought and sold. It is a gift that we can give or we can withhold. If we withhold our attention, we lose interest; if we give it, we gain interest. How tremendous, that we have a resource that grows in being used!
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The question of boredom is somewhat on my mind right now. I recently retired and I now have a lot of time. I worry a little that I might not have enough to do to fill this time. Remembering that “boredom is a lack of attention” reassures me.
One of the worst things about the process of retiring is that you get asked a hundred times things like, “What do you plan to do with retirement?” “Do you have any exciting travel planned?” “What’s on your bucket list?” I wanted to say “My retirement plan is simply to go on doing the things I have always done, but more so” and “I plan to attend as deeply as I can to whatever time is left for me on this wonderful planet.” Instead, I usually said the usual things that people expect to hear.
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Over the years, I have written a number of articles for SNS that address the idea of cultivating inner resources so that we can become less dependent on external resources. We live in a very externalized society that has an economic system that promotes our dependence on external resources. That people are so easily bored is a great boon to that economy. Bored people make great shoppers.
Meditation would be a great threat to that economy if there were any danger that masses of people would suddenly become meditators. There is, however, little danger of that. Meditation, and the inner contentment that comes from it, requires our full attention. Few people, these days, give their full attention to anything for long. “Distracted from distraction by distraction,” was T. S. Eliot’s wonderfully apt description of this aspect of the modern world.
While I was working, I would often encountered people who proudly called themselves “multi-taskers.” I always strove to be a uni-tasker. To do one thing at a time, and do it with my full attention.
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Decades ago, I started saving for retirement, and that attention to the financial aspects of retirement is now paying off handsomely. But the decades that I have spent deepening my practice of meditation and mindfulness, is paying off even more handsomely.
I am happy to say that so far, my retirement is going very well. I don’t do very much, but what I do, I do intently. There is neither too much nor too little time. The days pass easily and naturally. I have learned many things in my life; learning to meditate, as well as other forms of mindfulness, has been among the most valuable. And that value only increases now that I have a lot of time to give to it.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.