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TOPIC: Boredom and Grace

Boredom and Grace 28 Jun 2013 22:59 #13003

I read the Guardian's Belief pages on and off but I don't find most of their regular writers particularly speak to me. Nice recent piece though from Giles Fraser on boredom, which is based on a Christian paradigm but I think will speak to anyone who's done dedicated contemplative practice:

Our fear of boredom is simply a fear of coming face to face with ourselves

"I think the experience of boring is good for us. But we now live in a culture that is pathologically fearful of being bored ... the Sunday morning hour, not unlike the therapeutic hour, is a place to contemplate our capacity to deal with the fear of emptiness, of our own abandonment. And the answer to that fear is not ever-more distraction.

Indeed, the interesting thing here is the panic that boredom seems to evoke in some people, as if their lives require the intervention of continual entertainment in order to be meaningful ... Ultimately, this subterranean anxiety is profoundly diminishing. "Inability to tolerate empty space limits the amount of space available," as the British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion once put it.

Throughout the centuries, theologians, especially those of the mystical tradition, have insisted that God is commonly experienced as a form of absence. Deus absconditus, as Luther described Him. Yet such is our anxiety when presented with empty space that we feel the need to fill it up – every absence being continually and desperately converted into some sort of presence.

Christianity, as I see it, is training in dependency. We are to wait upon God. The healing initiative comes from without. The technical term is grace, and it falls on us like rain, unbidden and unbiddable. For those for whom theology is intellectual child's play (which, in a certain important sense, I think it is), the same could be said about our dependency upon other people.

...But we have to wait for it. And wait. There is nothing much we can do to force it to happen. And yes, that's often on the scary side of boring."
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Boredom and Grace 29 Jun 2013 10:31 #13012

We do seem to have inordinate levels of noise and distraction in our modern western culture. Though plenty of places where that's not the case: I think of the guys I knew in upstate New York who hunted or fly-fished, for instance, who appreciated the silence and long quiet waiting that was part of that.

This came up in an interesting grumble at the retreat I left the other weekend. The organizers had brought a "contemplative musician" to play his compositions during meditations. There was some argument during one of the lectures, with some people apparently from a the John Main Christian Meditation school who use a mantra repetition finding the music distracting to their mantra focus, while those from the Thomas Keating Centering Prayer school tending to find the music calming and focusing, as they do a more silent interior practice. Which led to a conversation with another friend about the fussing that goes on in some circles about having too much noise in the modern Catholic mass, where there are no silences (either the priest or congregation is speaking, or there is a song being sung), versus in the Tridentine mass (pre-Vatican 2 Latin mass), where there are long periods of silence while the priest and assistants speak softly/inaudibly at the altar, and far fewer parts where the congregation does anything other than kneel in silence. Since it's no longer the only form of the mass available, those who attend tend to be a self-selecting group who appreciate that.

I noticed that in the early morning mass that I usually attend the priest will often leave a period of silence for 5 minutes or so after the Gospel reading, instead of giving a brief homily. I think he does this because most of the people attending that mass are nuns or more devout people who appreciate the silence and won't rustle around and start talking to fill it. At most masses people fuss and rustle and whisper even during the homily or consecration, any time they are not required to sing or give verbal responses, so there's a tendency to keep them busy with lots of stuff to do. I do think it involves both a habit of never being in silence, and a terror of not keeping busy, lest one have to be with ones inner stuff.
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Boredom and Grace 29 Jun 2013 11:09 #13015

Ona Kiser wrote:
At most masses people fuss and rustle and whisper even during the homily or consecration, any time they are not required to sing or give verbal responses, so there's a tendency to keep them busy with lots of stuff to do. I do think it involves both a habit of never being in silence, and a terror of not keeping busy, lest one have to be with ones inner stuff.

I find it really difficult to be around people who must constantly be in motion or talking. One of my hot buttons lately. Something I've been looking into. When I see them coming I try to run :P

That's sort of sad (to me) that mass is like that. I'm not Catholic but I dig the reverence and the seriousness of it. Seems old (in a good way), worn in but rooted. Something like that. On the other hand, most Christian denominations (again, to me) seem like hundreds of loose cannons firing away blindly.

I've been to few Church services in my life but the common theme seems to be keeping people in their seats by keeping them entertained rather than deepening whatever it is they're there to deepen. My wife and I recently went to check out a nearby UU (Unitarian Unilateralist) and it was unfortunately the same story there.
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Boredom and Grace 29 Jun 2013 11:17 #13019

Which reminds of something someone said in passing on another thread, which I can't find, about whether any sort of asceticism, monastic-style practices, renunciation, etc is really necessary for spiritual development. I'm not entirely sure, but it seems a combination of helpful, perhaps inevitable even. Without being so extreme as "you can't wake up without being a monk" of course, but there is a tendency to draw inwards at times, to find silence more supportive, and to become more aware of attachment, distraction, skillful/unskillful behavior and so on, which is part of what such practices are intended to cultivate or point to? Not sure.
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