Heard about all the benefits of meditating but find it painfully boring to sit very long? Are you constantly looking at a clock or timer, wondering when you’ll be released from your misery? If this is you – and most everyone feels this way at some point, and especially early on – here’s how to keep the boredom at bay when meditating!
My mom likes to complain that as a child my favorite question was “Why?” And my favorite thing to say was “I’m bored.” Which leads me into one of my favorite self-reflective questions in adulthood, “Why am I bored?” For the longest time I struggled with not just boredom but ennui before learning how to see it for what it was, deal with it, and move on. To keep your meditation from being boring, it’s helpful to start by questioning that boredom from a variety of angles.
So why are you bored? To stop boredom, we should probably uncover its roots. After all, you can’t fully address an issue without knowing it’s causes. So why are you bored? Let’s explore this.
Chances are good that you’re sitting there trying to meditate – for health, stress, or spiritual reasons – and your mind says, “This is boring” or “This isn’t interesting” or maybe even, “Ugh. I hate this!” Meanwhile you had and – still have – many good reasons for meditating. So your inner self isn’t bored or uninterested in the least.
Your mind is bored.
When you say “you” are bored, you are identifying yourself with what your mind is saying and with the thoughts it produces. However, you are not your thoughts.
So what is it that is bored? And why?
Our minds are active creatures. During sleep, we dream. When we’re awake, the mind is avidly consuming the world around it or pouring over memories and thoughts. It’s highly active and in our society, we’ve especially groomed it to hyper-actively seek entertainment, new experiences, endless knowledge (even if it’s just celebrity gossip), and to consume anything that can excite its eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch and thoughts.
When you sit to meditate, relax and slip into the inner world, finally escaping from the insanity and busy-ness of the outer world and your hectic life, your mind doesn’t know how to handle its crack being taken away. It goes completely bonkers, never mind it’s been screaming for some peace and quiet and down time for ages. Now it can’t handle the silence and lack of stimulus. So it gets bored.
You’re not bored. You’re stimulus-addicted mind is bored (and possibly going through severe stimulus withdrawal). With that arises thoughts, feelings and opinions about the boredom, some strong enough to make you stand up and quit meditation so you can get your stimulus fix.
Meditation Is Stopping
How long have you been craving peace and quiet, serenity and happiness? How long have you been wanting freedom from stress, anxiety and the inferno of your own thoughts? You’re after relaxation, peace and happiness. Isn’t that why you wanted to start meditating in the first place? Meditation is the art of digging free of the mind’s unfettered addiction to outside stimulus and the thoughts, feelings and chatter that produces within us. When we meditate, we learn how to lesson and shut down the mind’s constant swinging from thought to thought and extreme to extreme.
We have let our mind develop on autopilot for most of our lives, identifying with every thought it has. Once we step back and watch its antics in meditation, a gap opens between us and it, allowing peace and happiness to develop. Meditation is like potty training the mind. The mind goes crazy and doesn’t like this. At all. Again, the crack is being taken away and it is going into withdrawal.
Meditation is an art. It helps us calm the fire of thoughts and emotions that have driven us crazy for so long. Our boredom during meditation arises for many reasons but almost all stem from the inability of the mind to sit in the present moment and do nothing but turn inward and be present with ourselves. Being at peace or developing joy, happiness and equanimity starts by stopping. We stop our usual method for dealing with the present moment – which is to escape it into thoughts, activities and other sense stimulation. When we shut this habit down, our minds at first don’t know how to respond. They keep speeding on until we teach them how to stop, come back, and cultivate peace and happiness. Boredom is your mind wanting to stay in the race car and keep it on overdrive.
As a meditator, your job is to compassionately train your mind to work with you, not against you. Think of boredom during meditation as a spoiled child throwing a tantrum. Here are 5 good methods for working with boredom when it hits.
#1 – Refocus
When boredom sets in, acknowledge that your mind is saying that it’s bored and that it doesn’t like what’s happening. Thank it for its comments, tell it you’ll play later, and refocus your attention on your meditation. Return to your breath, mantra, guided meditation or other meditative focus.
Your mind may keep saying it’s bored and cause various anxious and stressed feelings in your body. Acknowledge again that the mind is saying that it’s bored. Thank it for its contribution, say later, and return once more to your meditative practice. Keep doing this.
You may feel upset with yourself or frustrated. That’s normal but remember it’s your mind throwing tantrums. The more skillful way of dealing with its antics is to treat it like a toddler that you love and which you are training to be a productive and happy individual. Be compassionate if you can toward the thoughts. Yelling at yourself or the mind won’t help matters. And if you wind up yelling, acknowledge that frustration and return to your meditation focus.
This is how we train the mind – like putting a child in its crib and not giving in to his or her demands for attention until they are asleep.
#2 – Change Focus
If the boredom is so intense that returning to your original meditation focus seems impossible – the breath, the body, a mantra, etc. – you might want to use another meditation exercise. First though, acknowledge the mind’s boredom and the emotions accompanying that boredom. Thank the mind for its comment, then turn your attention to a different meditation exercise or technique.
For instance, if you were concentrating on the breath, do a body meditation instead – such as scanning various parts of the body, breathing in and out with each one you focus on as you move from head to feet. Or if you were doing a body meditation, change to focusing on your breath.
A powerful technique for diverting the mind and getting on board with meditation is to focus on generating loving kindness by thinking about people you love. Picture them one by one in your mind and wish them happiness, good health, well-being, peace or other generous thoughts you can generate. You can focus on loving just one person or go through and dwell on everyone in your life whom you care about – family, friends, cherished teachers, favorite colleagues. It’s like a prayer of benediction and it often produces an immense wave of well-being inside you.
When you shift focus this way, it often breaks the hold of the unhappy thoughts. The loving kindness meditation is extremely potent. To stop unhappy thoughts, it’s usually better to nourish the compassion and love inside us rather than try to beat down our bored mind. War leaves no winners. Generating love and kindness will win over hearts and minds – yours included.
#3 – Make & Eat Popcorn
Sometimes, no matter what you try, your mind just won’t let go of its obsession with doing something, anything, other than developing calm and tranquility. The child is wide awake at 2am and isn’t going to let you sleep. It’s BORED and it wants to play. Everyone experiences this now and again during meditation, especially in the beginning, so don’t feel like this is unique to you or that you’re a failure.
In these instances you let the bored mind rage and merely watch and sit with the thoughts and emotions. Think of it like watching a movie, with your mind being the melodramatic star of the show. You sit there with your mental box of popcorn and watch its theatrics. Really study it like you were going to write a movie review. How’s the acting and lines? Coherent or childish? Too much drama or highly cerebral? Eat your mental popcorn and watch.
This is how you train the mind to lessen and eliminate boredom. You watch it, listen, but don’t identify the thoughts about boredom or the emotions and feelings as “you”. Often when you use this technique, the thoughts calm on their own. The mind gets bored of focusing too long on anything, even boredom, and moves on to something else. When you notice its silliness, it gets really stage shy too! Once this happens, refocus on your meditation exercises or the other techniques I’ve mentioned.
#4 – Free Association
If your boredom wears you out after trying the above or you just don’t have it in you today to train the hyperactive child, that’s okay. It happens to the best of us. Just let your mind wander around. Plan tomorrow’s dinner party. Brainstorm new goals for the year and how to accomplish them. Review last night’s episode of your favorite TV show. It happens. Just sit for the remainder of your session and daydream. That’s victory. Take it.
Not every time we meditate is great. Many sessions are lousy. Again, that’s okay. The sitting is what’s important. We’re developing a practice. It’s like training for a marathon after being a couch potato for decades. At first the training sessions suck and are painful and we don’t see any immediate results other than fatigue and agony. But over time, the results start developing, then snowball. Before long, we’re running the marathon. It’s the same with meditation.
Some sessions just suck. Let your mind wander and play while you sit. Indulging it every time isn’t helpful of course. Sometimes though you pick up the wide awake toddler at 2am and play. But not every time. It’s the same with meditation.
#5 – The Door Inward
Your mind’s boredom doesn’t have to be a negative, self-defeating problem. On the contrary, that boredom presents a vast opportunity for those brave and inquisitive enough to pursue the root of boredom. When you notice your mind getting bored and restless, use meditation as a door to explore “the self”. Go inward with that boredom with questions to investigate its source.
Side note: This method has really helped me transform so many negative or less than helpful habits and emotions. Maybe it can help you.
First, though, acknowledge the mind’s boredom and emotions. Then start asking questions. Why is the mind bored? This is not to develop reasons or rationalizations about how much and why the mind hates sitting. The mind will give a laundry list to convince you to stop meditating. The questions are instead tools to uncover the real underpinnings of that boredom. What are the mind’s fears, anxieties, thought addictions, the impulse for constant activity, etc. that keep it from enjoying what you’re doing NOW? We can dive deep with this process and in doing so, shatter our constant self-identification with our thoughts, uncover hindrances that this habit encourages, deal with them, and move forward or go deeper.
Another good doorway questions is, “What is bored?” or “Where is this boredom coming from?” Is it a habit? What’s its true origination? We are not trying to develop a theory or list of reasons but trying to pin down the originating energy. But can you find any? When I follow this line of investigation, it often leads me to a moment of stopping and frees me from the claws of once powerful emotions and thoughts – whether they be boredom, aversion to doing chores, or not liking something or someone. It is a method, not a path leading to answers or truth. The digging is what’s important and produces results, not the grabbing at whatever seems pleasant as a theory.
I ask, “What is it that doesn’t like this? Where is this coming from?” Again, we’re not seeking to explain, rationalize or expound like we typically do. Not “I don’t like this person because he reminds me of my jerk of a boss,” but Where in me is this feeling coming from? What makes this particular thought arise and not some other? Why dislike or annoyance instead of a thought about something else that is pleasant?
These are deep questions. Other questions exist too. You may develop some of your own. This questioning is one aspect of going inward. If you let it, boredom can be an amazing doorway to inner peace, self-love, freedom, equanimity and even happiness.
Sitting in Peace
We take up meditation for different reasons: health benefits, to decrease stress and anxiety, to relax, to cultivate peace and happiness, for enlightenment, etc. We may have many reasons or just be curious. But we had the instinct to sit. When our minds react with boredom, how we handle that boredom will lead to various outcomes. Giving in as if we are the boredom won’t help our practice. Getting frustrated and upset with ourselves, yelling at our minds, is ultimately self-defeating too.
The better way is to treat our minds like a toddler we’re training into a kind, helpful and fully developed being. This is just a metaphor of course but useful in seeing the mind’s antics and training it compassionately to be our best friend. Hopefully the 5 techniques presented here will help in dealing with boredom when it hits and in deepening your meditation practice. A trained mind is a happy and peaceful mind after all. Who doesn’t want that?
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