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Dare to Be Boring: Advice for a Life Well Lived

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Image courtesy of the author
Image courtesy of the author

“Dare to be Boring,” instructs astrologer Rob Brezsny in his October 2018 forecast for those born under the sign of Leo, the lion. He asks us to consider whether stress is experienced through trying to be so interesting and attractive all the time; whether living up to other people’s expectations, being amusing and exciting, isn’t an exhausting and “onerous responsibility.”

That got me thinking. Again.

Exacerbated by the deluge of social media updates shared by most of us these days—unlike any other time in recorded history—the pressure to lead an engaging and stimulating life is well and truly on. In fact, a couple of my nearest and dearest very recently quipped and ironically questioned whether a good time was really had at all if it wasn’t shared online somewhere. From a night out on the town with your best friends to a solitary asana on a mountain top overlooking an idyllic valley; from swimming with wild turtles in the limpid coves of Maui to riding white water rapids in Norway; from volunteering with big cats in a South African sanctuary to champagne dining at Le Jules Verne in Paris.

And the catalogue of bucket list images grows exponentially on a daily basis as travelers Instagram their latest adventures.

While we can try to maintain a sensible perspective on the realities between what’s plastered on our smartphone and the daily grind of a typical day: alarm, coffee, kids, school run, loaded work schedule, school run, kids, food, wine, switch off tv, sleep, and repeat! (amend as necessary for the practicing Buddhists, of course), a subliminal secondary dialogue also runs; a mantra that needles in insidious judgment that your life is just not interesting. At worst, that you’re just not good enough.

It’s a tough, self-deprecating judgment at the best of times, but what happens when we find this same duplicitous feeling crawling under our skin, our wellbeing marred within the confines of an environment that’s supposed to support positive growth? The “daily grind” of a religious or spiritual day may promise deeper contentment, however many join a sangha not always purely for the practices and mentorship, but, perhaps subconsciously, to feel emotionally safe within an embracing community as they ascend their gnostic ladder.

Like it or not, our basic brain has an ancient survival mechanism that judges danger at a pretty superficial level, and can lead to problems if left unchecked. While we know that a book is not the sum total of its cover, we can still behave like petty children in a sandpit, ousting those who we’ve decided don’t fit our liking. Or we feel like the ousted. Sometimes, beyond all our better reasoning and higher-minded thinking, there will still be people we struggle to tolerate. Even within a spiritual community, there has always been the very human aspect of personality clashes. The judgmental problem of spiritual hierarchy and elitism is up there as one of the most unfortunate and insidious needles. So we allow these cancerous judgments to fester under the cover of denial, while they whisper the trappings of enlightenment oneupmanship.

Are you spiritual enough? Are you practiced enough? Are you vegan enough? Are you retreated enough? Are you guru-connected enough? Are you enlightened enough?! 

In a religious community, as much as in life in general, we are simultaneously reminded to be at peace with where we are and, of course, not to compare ourselves with others. But we tend to be our own worst enemies, don’t we?

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Image courtesy of the author

The monkey mind chases its tail down a plughole as the inferiority complex of never being as active or as capable or as likable or as pious or as educated or as interesting as everyone else overrides our sensibilities or mindfulness meditations. But truth is, as we all know really, many of us do in fact lead pretty boring lives. And that’s OK! Boring does not diminish our light or make us smaller. The key is to be content with our boringness and embrace it.

As Lao Tzu states: “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing!” How many of us become almost frenetic in the pursuit of busyness in order to feel accomplished or legitimate? Yet, we actually accomplish little of any real value.  

Not that this is a get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s not an excuse to sit back and do nothing at all, nor is it permission to remain unmotivated and not actively undertake engaged action. The brain prefers lazy in many ways and that’s not a pattern we want our brains to form, but we would be kinder to ourselves if, more often than not, we just ease up on the self-imposed pressure to be busy and fabulous. 

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” So says Zen. Because . . . “when you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden. Wood is chopped. Water is carried. Life happens.”

And while this pertains to the act of being fully engaged in the moment, the example cited is of the daily grind of the ordinary, without which there’d be no warmth, no hydration. 

So whether we’re wanting to earn good karma points or to recalibrate our thinking, we can practice those simple moments of private and secret acts that are appreciative of the moment and hopefully benefit others, without having to let the world know or beat ourselves up at how boring it seems. Then no moment is truly wasted. Vacuum your parent’s house when they’re out. Carry that extra bag for someone who’s struggling. Open the door for someone behind you. Make that hot drink when someone returns home after a long day. Embrace your child or partner as you both unwind at the end of a long day. Listen. Be kind. Do the laundry. Take out the recycling. Chop wood. Carry water.

This is nothing to do with boredom. In fact, being bored is a privilege denied many in this world. This is the permission we can give ourselves, without apology, to be as boring as we feel comfortable being. Regardless of how busy our life is. Boring is the emotional and physical downtime we may actually need. A vacation for our psyche. Removing our egoic pressures and drives, giving us space to really appreciate the simple things, and to allow our higher selves to take over, much like a cold can knock someone out for a while, sleep is when the body can heal itself most efficiently. 

As Tom Robbins writes in his novel Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, “There’s birth, there’s death, and in between there’s maintenance.” 

Whether we like it or not.

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But the most important thing to remember is to not over worry about all these judgments. We’re under no obligation whatsoever to be as sparkly or as accredited or as spiritually attained as anyone else. “Dare to be Boring.” And if others don’t like, tough. 

Embrace the simple. Revel in the evening snuggle on the sofa, and care less about what you may be “missing out on.” Lap up every last ounce of a good book. Relish the conversation that is about what’s for dinner and if the sauce needs extra flavoring. And with wild abandon, enjoy something epic—on TV. 

As another of Robbins’s characters, Switter’s (ill-fated) Parrot companion, instructs most succinctly: “People of zee wurl, Relax!”*

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