Ever have one of Sherlock’s days?
Boredom can leave us frantic and passive all at the same time. There could be a million things to get done, but we sit, stand or pace. Instead of helping our boredom, our passivity actual increases the problem. So we end up shooting the walls.
Here’s the thing: when deliberately seeking a meaningful connection with God, it’s a good thing we come up against boredom. It exposes how distracted we truly are with media, apps, texts, and other flotsam and jetsam. Not only does it expose our distraction, but it exposes our contentment with that distraction. This, by far, rattles us the most.
When we realize how deeply attached we are to social media or food or work or weight loss, we gulp down those big lumps in our throats: “I need stimulation!”
But when stimulation is removed in our spiritual quests, we discover how mundane prayer and contemplation can be. Disciplines worth pursuing often are. This may come as a disappointment to us, because we want to experience what the lifelong desert abbas and ammas experienced in one shot.
It takes a willful decision to plow into our boredom in order to release our addiction to distraction.
But that can wait for another day.
Today, I see many volunteers up here in Lac La Biche pacing. Bored. Frantic.
Not enough to do! I’m not needed! Too much to do! I AM needed, but can’t start! Give me something!
I see evacuees pacing The Bold Centre, activities set up for them to engage in. But instead of passing the time with a craft or with a pet, they fret up and down the halls, sit on their cots, go for a smoke, pace some more, smoke some more and sit on their cots again.
This kind of boredom is a killer.
It’s expected in the trauma process, and needs to be understood through that lens.
What’s underneath that boredom?
Boredom stemming from a traumatic event rarely stands alone. Rather it’s another manifestation of fear, anxiety, worry and grief. It almost feels better to perpetually scroll through one’s phone for updates than it does to work out or take a walk or see what there is to do in the community.
There’s a panic that rises up being too far away from the main hub of communication. And panic is one thing many can’t tolerate right now. Too tired. Too numb. Too scared. Boredom is often what keeps people together.
How can we assist?
How can we help?
First we have to help ourselves. As volunteers and frontline workers, we must take some huge steps back from helping day in and day out. And by ‘step back’ I mean staying off of social media after we get home. As the relief efforts move from emergency towards recovery, the pace we were all moving at is going to slow down.
But the adrenaline and cortisol are still pumping through our bodies (& all that on little sleep), so we’re jumpy, cagey, unfocused, and sometimes snappish. Not always, but our edges are wearing thin here and there. When we leave the places we’ve been volunteering at or working at, we keeping spinning stories in our heads over and over again. We can’t leave it behind. It almost feels shameful to put down our burdens and weariness knowing what so many of our Fort Mac neighbors are being forced to carry.
But if we don’t identify our boredom — and what lurks beneath it — we will no longer be helpers and neighbors to those who require our help. We will burn out.
Boredom has us moving in tiny circles in small places. Take a deep breath, widen the circle and increase the space. Start pacing around the lake or over at Sir Winston Churchill Park. If we must pace, let’s pace in larger and larger circles and spaces. Rhythmic movement will begin to help our bodies release those stress hormones; our breathing will become deeper; and we’ll sweat out some of that tension.
I’m not kidding.
Pick up a pencil crayon, grab a colouring page and start making some art.
Choose your colours carefully. This requires some thought and intention. Choice and intention demands that our fritzed brains smooth out and our frazzled spirits make space for calm. Start with one colour and one area or shape within the picture. That’s all.
Even the movements of the hands and fingers in the colouring process will begin to create that rhythm — up and down, back and forth.
Shoot hoops or practice your serve.
Pick up a basketball and practice chest shots against a wall if don’t have access to a basket. Find a volleyball and practice overhand and underhand serves. If you can snare a couple other people in the process, start a 21-pickup game or a practice round of volleyball maneuvers.
Be mindful of every single position your body needs to be in to make a jump shot. Be aware of every action you must move through to spike that volleyball over the net. Repeat these things again and again and again.
Oh yeah: go home. Rest. Sleep. Make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature for you to sleep at, turn off your cell phone (that’s right: OFF. Not on vibrate or silent. OFF.), draw the curtains to make sure it’s as dark as possible, and snooze. Many of us are working on no sleep; but many more of us are working on DISTURBED sleep — waking with the feeling we haven’t slept well at all, still all tired and anxious.
These exercises aren’t meant to fix the situation. There is no fixing the situation. We are all faced with the trauma and grief of adjusting to an incredibly new normal. What these exercises are intended to do is to break through the boredom of the day, to break through the boredom itself and expose our stressed out selves. When we’re honest that we’re not really BORED, but rather tired or scared or angry, then we can work at releasing some of that in rhythmic formations.
What does this mean for evacuees? (or anyone in trauma for that matter)
Sensory interventions are powerful and need to be engaged in before cognitive interventions will have any helpful effects. Colouring, deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, yoga, sports, play therapy, expressive art therapy (EXA) — structured activities designed specifically with the purpose of lowering the arousal in the brain stem. When the sensory brain’s arousal starts to come down, other helps can enter and actually be of help.
Be sensitive. Be careful. We can’t get in someone’s face and tell them that it’s better for them to colour a picture or shoot hoops when they’ve determined that they feel better glued to the TV’s news broadcast.
Have sensory activities ready and available. Many such things have been made available for evacuees here. If you see someone pacing, ask gently if they would like company. If so, pace with them. That, in itself, has widened their space and circle just a little bit. Suddenly pacing is more like taking a walk with someone new.
As people wait for word from their families, insurance companies, banks, governments, friends, churches, The Red Cross and everyone else in the world it seems, be patient with the boredom. It is a natural reaction to highly terrorizing and unnatural circumstances. When all we can do is wait — on everyone — our frustration and exhaustion is bound to come out in different ways.
One of those ways is boredom.
It’s a boredom far different that our everyday boredom.
Knowing how we can begin to engage it rather than feed it is a good place to start.
Go gentle, friends.