“As it is, we are merely bolting our lives—gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in—because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to us more boring than simple being. If I ask you what you did, saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted yesterday, I am likely to get nothing more than the thin, sketchy outline of the few things that you noticed, and of those only what you thought worth remembering. Is it surprising that an existence so experienced seems so empty and bare that its hunger for an infinite future is insatiable? But suppose you could answer, ‘It would take me forever to tell you, and I am much too interested in what’s happening now.’ How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such a fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself as anything less than a god? And, when you consider that this incalculably subtle organism is inseparable from the still more marvelous patterns of its environment—from the minutest electrical designs to the whole company of the galaxies—how is it conceivable that this incarnation of all eternity can be bored with being?”
~ Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.
It’s quite likely that few who read these words really understand what they mean. It’s not that this is hard to understand; it’s incredibly easy, but the mind has a way of circumventing simplicity. It has a way of by passing the present moment to seek out and constantly engage in either a projected future or a remembered past.
It is amazing just how much of our lives is held to ransom by passing emotional infatuations. Life slips by, unnoticed, because we are so continuously mentally and emotionally busy with the things that appear to be happening to us and around us; to say nothing of our private mental preoccupations. Eventually though, a moment is bound to come in our day or night, when we look up and become aware, with a sudden jolt, that much time passed. What were we doing? Where did the time go?
My master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche had a graphic way of describing this moment and I love to recount it whenever there is a chance. He would liken people to children who are caught up in the playing of a game. They are so swept along by what is happening in their game that they fail to notice anything else, until suddenly they feel hungry or tired and then they look up and see that it is already getting dark, that the sun is about to disappear behind the horizon, that hours have passed by unnoticed and that they are far from home.
Being engrossed in the outer movements of life may not seem in any way connected to the intransigent mood of boredom and yet on closer scrutiny these two states are intimately intertwined. Boredom and distraction, are part of the vicious cycle of samsara, endlessly repeating itself. A cycle of almost constant superficial engagement or dullness which eats up all our time and energy by engrossing our attention in outer things which are neither essential nor important.
Our entire life can pass us by in this half conscious manner until we come to face the moment of our death, or some other life-shaking crisis which makes us suddenly realize that we do not know who and what we really are. Throughout our lives and even more particularly at the end of our life, this and this alone is the crucial question; the one and only question. Investigating the state of who and what we really are is the quickest and most direct path to truth.
Boredom, like distraction, is a symptom of disconnection with our inner sense of beingness. Modern society does little to turn us inward and much to contribute to the rampant dis-ease of inner alienation. Many of the psychoses of modern societies arise from this very imbalance. However, we can turn this around without even changing the situation in which we find ourselves placed.
Self-inquiry is an inner attention. It requires nothing but alertness and determination. Moments amid nature; moments of silence and inner quietude can help us in the beginning. In the midst of nature we can easily gain a sense of the aware presence which is fundamental to our existence. However, as we become more sensitive and alert we will begin realise that we are never separated from this.
Learning how to notice this presence is the key to fulfilling our purpose in life; it is also the sure and ultimate antidote to the modern diseases of boredom and distraction.The photo is a Leunig cartoon called, “The Life You Lead.”
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