How to be Bored by Eva Hoffman is part of The School of Life, a series dedicated to life’s big questions.
I am a person who is forever consuming. Whether it’s podcasts, social media, Netflix, books or Youtube videos, there is always something filling up my mental space.
As I grow up and face my own life’s big questions (how is it possible for me to not know what I want? And, furthermore, if I can’t even figure myself out, how on earth am I supposed to deal with other people?!), it occurred to me that maybe I would have an easier time answering them if I spent half as much time listening to myself as I do… well, the entire internet. That maybe I was even using the internet as a way of deliberately avoiding doing so.
A couple days after thinking this, I found this book (while I was in Hay-On-Wye, actually). I glanced at the blurb and saw ‘We live in a hyper-active, over stimulated age. Uninterrupted activity can seem exciting, but it can also leave us emotionally disoriented and mentally depleted. How can we recover a sense of balance and richness of experience in our lives?’ … I was totally sold.
How to be Bored is a short book that contains a whole lot of wisdom and some simple reminders of how we might best spend our time on this planet. Here are just a few of my favourites:
On the internet…
‘We absorb large quantities of culture, which may be all to the good; but too often, we consume culture in the spirit of – well, consumerism. We do things in order to have done them, or simply to fill time with an activity.’
‘If we rush ceaselessly through disconnected activities without checking in on our moods or motives, we can lose track of ourselves; in a sense, we lose the ability to experience our experiences.’
‘Books help to create a sense that we live in a shared world, or what some sociologists call “imagined communities”. But the fundamental reason for taking the time to read is because books (good books, that is; books that matter) are the best aid to extended thought and imaginative reflection we have invented.’
‘It is often a good idea to read the beginning of a book especially slowly and attentively; as in exploring a new place – or person – we need to make an initial effort of orientation and of empathy. Eventually, if we are drawn in, we can have the immensely pleasurable experience of full absorption – a kind of simultaneous focusing of attention and losing our self-consciousness as we enter the imaginative world of the book.’
‘… art reminds us that we are attached to the world through our physical perceptions – through our relish of the textures and colours of our surroundings – and it also helps us understand that the way we perceive the external world and human form is informed by our inner vision. Hostility or fear makes the objects of our vision ugly; on the other hand, aesthetic appreciation arises out of an intense appreciation or cherishing – a way of looking that requires attentiveness and a kind of love.’
‘Being immersed in the musical language… reminds us that we have inner lives that are more than superficial or politely socialised; that we have the potential for powerful feelings and responses; and that if we consign ourselves to functioning only on the surfaces of ourselves we lose rich dimensions of experience, and a measure of our humanity.’
On making decisions…
‘Arriving at complex life decisions – decisions that involve not only commodities, but ourselves – cannot be done by statistic calculation, if only because we are not statistically constructed.’
‘We need to ponder not only what we are like, but who we want to be – what qualities or attitudes in ourselves we want to affirm, and what we do not admire. In other words, we need to create our own guideposts for important decisions – our own ethical, as well as emotional, criteria for choice.’
‘It is only when we give ourselves a chance to nurture all our faculties and ways of understanding the world that we can begin to feel ourselves to be rich in internal resources, and to experience richly.’