Bored and Restless

Summer Monsoon

Bored? Restless? Usually I say, “I never experience any of those feelings.” And yet, if I’m honest, I do. Just the use of that little word “never” is a sign of my resistance.

That old “never say never” phrase is so true. When those feelings do skitter around the edges of my day, I’ve learned how to use them to work for me in my writing, and in other life situations.

I get restless when: I’m in groups at cocktail hours.

I am bored: when someone talks politics for more than five minutes, whether I agree or not.

In A Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield writes of boredom as a lack of attention, a restlessness, accompanied by discouragement or judgment. “We don’t like what is happening, … or because we feel empty or lost.”

Empty or lost. Bingo. If I don’t get caught up in trying to justify how really boring “it” is, what can I discover? What does that feeling herald? I usually have to be rested and not hungry in order to be this objective with myself. Sometimes I am, and it works.

Restlessness, agitation, “the pacing tiger” can come as a response to something we don’t want to feel. “The mind spins in a circle or flops around like a fish out of water.” Know that awkward feeling?

If I don’t keep resisting the feelings I can remind myself feelings aren’t facts. They usually pass in 90 seconds (a counseling gem that got me through quitting smoking and other vices) if I don’t find reasons to cling to them.

But here’s the thing. If I accept these feelings are impermanent labels–after they pass or underneath them– is something much better. Like the water at the very bottom of my friend’s water garden. Where the miniature waterfall pings into the water, it’s stirred up, maybe sparkling (which can keep me in the excitement of restlessness) or cloudy, but down and away on the edges where the koi drift and float, it’s crystal clear.

Years ago I had a dear friend named Kenny Moore. He used to say when someone was fidgety or anxious, either physically or emotionally, “They’re on the verge of a miracle. Just around the bend something great will happen.” What a tonic that was. I know. He saw me fidgety in meetings, emotional in dealing with difficult people, incredulous over some minor flaw in a person. “Go through this, Eth, you’re at the bend in the road.” And I did. Instead of ending a friendship, or verbally blasting someone, I learned to stop and listen. Not always to the person (I’m not that serene), but to what was under my feelings. And it did get better.

When I’m feeling bored or restless, aka empty or lost, or pacing like a tiger, I let myself pace. Literally. I go for a walk, leave my desk, or the essay, or the editing, and step out back and walk around our yard. Or, and here I can see many of my fellow type A personalities shudder, I can do nothing. I don’t need to read another book on writing, or work harder. Sometimes I have to concentrate less. And the new creative idea, the new perspective drifts, floats, and sometimes shoots to the top like a jumping fish.

What makes you restless? What helps you to get to that creative idea?


10 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this thoughtful and beautifully written essay!

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      Thanks, Hank. I’m really pleased you enjoyed the post.

  2. Stephanie

    “Sometimes I have to concentrate less. And the new creative idea, the new perspective drifts, floats, and sometimes shoots to the top like a jumping fish.”

    I especially love it when the creative idea jumps to the surface like a humpback whale 🙂 Beautiful blog post.

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      Thanks, Stephanie, Those humpback whale ideas have an incredible impact!!

  3. You write so beautifully and with such wisdom. I loved your insights. I always blame ADHD for my distraction at cocktail parties. Now I shall look deeper. (Sometimes). And as to what helps me get to that creative idea? Some days I ask, “WHAT idea?” Other times, I find ideas by walking outside, or by doing nothing, something that I find ever so difficult. Thanks for a lovely post.

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      It does all depend on our mental spiritual and physical condition of the day. I’m working on daily mindfulness. It’s so easy to go into “automatic.” But what fun is that? Kind of like when I went to get a 250Z (yes 250 back in the day) and the salesman showed me an automatic. I just had to leave.

  4. joanne sabates

    Adjusting to the two unstructured months in summer has been a challenge for me for many years, as I work for a Board of Education. This essay couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for me. Reading and re-reading it, I am intrigued with the use of the words ‘underneath’ (…….after they pass or underneath them) and ‘under’ (…..but to what was ‘under’ my feelings). Exploring the etymology of the word ‘under’ may provide insight into why those words were chosen. More to follow; off to Jazzercise, my summer passion.

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      Insightful, as usual, from you. How I miss your ‘take’ on things.

  5. Love it!

  6. Ethel Lee-Miller

    Thanks. Thanks for stopping by.

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