In the book Mindfulness in Action Chögyam Trungpa referred to two kinds of boredom that we can experience: cool boredom and hot boredom. Hot boredom is the one most of us has experienced; this is the kind of boredom thtat appears when pauses or moments of lowered stimulation arise. Hot boredom is a result of our addiction to constant stimulation and business. During a conversation, when a pause appears, hot boredom moves us to fill that pause. Hot boredom makes us feel uncomfortable when conversation stalls or stops for a moment. Hot boredom often arises during meditation, leading the mind to wander, making the body uncomfortable (ever experience those annoying itches that appear suddenly?), or, at the most extreme, gets us to end meditation altogether. Chögyam Trungpa explains:
"Hot boredom is like being locked in a padded cell. You are bored, miserable and irritated. You will probably experience lots of that in your meditation practice."
Cool boredom, on the other hand, is the opposite. It is expansive. It softens our experiences and makes room for self compassion. During meditation we have the opportunity to come home to ourselves, to really see who we are, often for the very first time. In order to establish this relationship, it becomes important to lower our need for stimulation. We need to become comfortable with pauses and moments of stillness. When we meditate we may become aware of the rise and fall of emotions and feelings, thoughts come and go, some can be quite strong, even disturbing. Cool boredom lets us witness to all that passes through us without the need to latch on, to become stimulated by what appears, but to be aware and let go.
This is the point in which we become true friends with ourselves, when we can see ourselves more honestly. We don't become concerned with how great or terrible we are. Good and bad, right and wrong are not matters of concern. Instead we see all this as part of the whole of who we are. Cool boredom doesn't appear right away. When we first learn meditation we are stimulated by the techniques, the discovery of what happens when we confront hot boredom.
Eventually, we will begin to experience cool boredom being challenged by hot boredom. When we don't require focus on techniques as much or when the effects of meditation become more subtle and stimulation is greatly reduced, we might think that our practice of meditation has failed. When we sit to meditate nothing much is happening. The thoughts are not as rapid, we experience less disturbing emotions or intrusive thoughts. We might find the itch of hot boredom appear again. But if we allow for cool boredom to have its place we begin to find this low stimulation refreshing. We begin to experience what it is to be without drama or the imprisonment of habitual patterns. We realize we are more than just the flow of emotions, sensations and thoughts. We have the opportunity at this point to meet who we are behind all this rising and falling. Cool boredom introduces us to who we truly are as a human being.
Cool boredom is not the experience of walls closing in, but the falling away of all barriers. It is cooling, refreshing, like a soft breeze or cool running water.
With cool boredom "we realize that existence does not depend on constantly cranking up our egomaniacal machine." We discover that there is a whole other way of living.
I am Do'an Prajna, a bhikṣu (fully ordained Zen Buddhist monk) and zen teacher. Here I share my thoughts and observations about living a life of compassion, attention and gratitude.