We embark on an internal journey of boredom, attempting to stay as bored as possible while maintaining awareness of the process.  The landscape is bleak, yet the subtle features of mind present themselves to be examined and explored.


The Buddhist phenomenology identifies six senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and thought.  Just as sights and sounds barrage our eyes and ears, thoughts manifest in our thinking mind, as sensual experiences that pass and cannot be owned.  

The boring experience is a temporary release from engagement - engagement with our senses and thoughts.  It is emptiness and dullness without depth.  Here, we hypothesize two main modes of boredom.  The first is tedious and physically miserable, often induced by waiting.  The second is fertile, like the gripping pause on top of a cliff, before a big jump into the clear and new.

J. Krishnamurti writes about seeing:

"…when you look at a tree or at a cloud of an evening full of light and delight, do you actually see it, not only with your eyes and intellectually, but totally, completely?  Have you ever experimented with looking at an objective thing like a tree without any of the associations, any of the knowledge you have acquired about it, without any prejudice, any judgement, any words forming a screen between you and the tree and preventing you from seeing it as it actually is?  Try it and see what actually takes place when you observe the tree with all your being, with the totality of your energy."

This type of seeing - profound, deep, and sometimes non-dual - often comes from being bored.  To really see a tree, in this way, one simply has to wait out the boredom that sets in when we hold our gaze.  This explosive move from boredom to insight may be pleasant, but is the main hurdle to a sustained boring experience.

This article details an adventure in boredom.  We undertake to maintain a state of uninterrupted boredom, turning the bleakest landscape into our forest of discovery.  We are simultaneously the observer (henceforth the "Witness") and the participant in this experiment, and, as with all subject/object dualities, this paradox frames the experience.  In particular, the experiment is compromised if the Witness leaves the room; meta-awareness must be maintained at all times, and such meta-awareness necessarily interferes with the thinking mind's boredom.  This requires a further level of meta-meta-awareness - the "Auditor" checks in with the Witness occasionally.  Although such levels continue in theory, in practice these three levels have sufficed for our crude experiment.

Glossary of Terms

These are not universally agreed upon.  We articulate them for the sake of clarity within this article.

Mind - the participant in the experiment; the thinking mind and sensing mind.

Witness - the observer in the experiment; self-reflection within the Mind.

Auditor - the observer of the observer; self-reflection of the Witness.

state of mind - the combined states of the Mind, Witness, and Auditor.

interest, interested, interesting - an interesting sensation/thought engages the Mind and leads it away from boredom; trains of thought begin, and must be interrupted.  Likewise, interesting meta-thoughts regarding the Mind may engage the Witness too much, and lead away from boredom.

looking/noticing, listening, thinking - perception from sight, sound, and thought.

seeing, hearing, thinking about - engaging those perceptions, à la Krishnamurti, leading to interest in some object.

depth - a state of opening to an object or experience, dissolving the subject/object duality and allowing an immersion in relative unity.  The opposite of depth is dullness.  Depth is beyond thought, but quickly becomes interesting, and so the true bored experience has no place for depth.

Experimental Setup

The experiment was conducted during a recent flight from Boston to Seattle - from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The author sat still and did nothing, for approximately 5 hours and 45 minutes.  The first 15 minutes were devoted to anapana meditation, to calm the Mind, bring focus, and establish a strong self-aware Witness.  The last 15 minutes, during descent, were devoted to a relaxed breath-awareness, to close out the experiment and return to a more healthy state.  In between, the priorities were as follows:

1. Maintain the Witness

2. Be as bored as possible.  Avoid any interesting sensations/thoughts.  If the Witness observes a state of seeing, hearing, or thinking about, it must disengage and return the Mind to boredom.

3. The Auditor intervenes occasionally, to observe the Witness and make sure it is not too engaged or interested.

4. When the state of mind has stabilized, or is punctuated, this is documented in brief hand-written notes.


Boredom is emptiness and meaninglessness, without any liberation, insight or depth.  It is dullness in the abyss.  On its own, boredom is empty, but it often resolves in two ways - one negative and one positive.  The negative is a painful tedium, a waiting, a lonely suffering.  The positive is an explosive release into depth, creativity, or insight.  Into the emptiness, beautiful thoughts blossom, new creative ideas are born, sensitivity increases, emotions surface.


0:00 - plane begins to taxi away from the airport.  begin anapana meditation.

0:12 - plane takes off.  stop anapana, and begin experiment in boredom.

0:15 - the city of Boston was interesting, so I looked away.

0:22 - looking at colors and shapes, and starting to see more, becoming more sensitive.  I dart my eyes, but does this help or hurt the goal of boredom?

0:31 - start fidgeting.

0:34 - ideas are reverberating in the form of phrases.  hear the ideas pull my awareness in.  fight it.

0:41 - seeing so much. flashes of childhood. feel some drowsiness.

0:47 - some fear about what's going to happen in the next five hours.

0:54 - cycles of fidgeting and staring, but of slower frequencies.  slowing down.  feel some peace.

1:05 - the weight behind my eyes is gone.  feels like watching a movie. concerned that too much low-level breath-awareness is putting me into a trance.  how to lose breath-awareness?

1:18 - have become very sensitive. hard not to be fascinated by every image, sound, sensation. maybe forcing awareness to move/jump only feeds it with interesting things. maybe need to force it to move towards certain things, so the objects are uninteresting.

1:28 - drink a soda.

1:34 - first wave of nihilism - emptiness AND depth, watching the guy hand out snacks.  I want to relish it but don't.  depth not allowed.

1:53 - finish soda and snacks.  fidgeting stopped. very peaceful, content.  maintaining the Witness seems to preclude the deep levels of boredom, like I had when riding on the subway or waiting to board the plane.  should I go for endurance, not depth of boredom?

1:56 - [Auditor steps in.] don't follow that last train of thought.  too curious about it.  I am in the experiment, not allowed to process the data or alter the course, only observe and document.

2:16 - second wave - massive - of nihilism.  profound awareness of utter and absolute meaninglessness, when I notice woman watching a TV show on jellyfish.  the abyss distracts and comforts me with sadness, fear.  I look away.

2:26 - notice her watching a show with Sarah Palin showshoeing across a crevassed glacier, roped in and gussied up.  waves of emotions and thoughts distract/engage me.  not bored, but they're so intense they overwhelm the Witness!  I lose control and self-awareness.  eventually the Auditor steps in and re-establishes the Witness.

2:41 - came up with a simple way to put the Witness in a less demanding/engaging role (else it becomes too interested).  I count.  once the Mind becomes interested in something, I say the next number in my head.  the saying is interesting, but afterwards it induces a waiting-like state of shallow emptiness.  once an interesting thought/sensation comes up, I say the next number and reset.  seems like maybe I can even make the Witness bored.  By #16 I was VERY sleepy, almost fell asleep.

3:02 - by #42 I felt a strain from the effort.  the Witness had its arms tied behind its back.  was very drowsy and felt a pressure in my head.  got worried I might fall asleep.  Switched to a body-scan meditation briefly - moving awareness as soon as it engaged, but allowing the Witness to be slightly more active and free in its imaginings.  this woke me up.

3:06 - to bathroom, and walking up and down aisles.  then ate my donut (Boston Creme).

3:42 - increasing dullness until I can't tell if I'm bored or interested.  there is no depth of thought, but also no impatience.  my Mind is dull but the Witness is sharp.  some expansive feelings of oneness with the group of us travelers on the plane - one in consciousness.  but soon it becomes a thought; I don't pursue it.

4:10 - empty without depth.  the dullness extended to vision, so I just stare without any engaging thoughts arising.  If any depth comes, it has the flavor of a sort of out-of-body sharing of existence - sustaining the universe - shared with other plane folks.  also, feels like we're close enough to landing that waiting has kicked in - this fuels the boredom.  I've never sustained a Witness this long in public, but I'm not processing that - I let those observations go without trying to learn from them.

4:38 - stared at the tray table for a long time.  "empty, but dull" mantra, works like the counting.  nothing to report.

5:03 - still staring.  begin descent.

5:19 - my vision is still.  using the sound of the engine to gauge when a thought happens.  Witness is more steady.  steady growing urge to think something, read, or move, or hear music.

5:21 - begin to conclude the experiment.  allow thoughts.  Krishnamurti-esque seeing.  beautiful.  feel awake, alert.  stunning.

5:28 - stare in awe at the lights of Seattle.  allow depth - coast to coast, lights filling in the voids.

5:37 - plane lands.  rest with breath awareness.

5:45 - conclude experiment.  leave plane.


After the fidgeting of the first two hours, none of the negative effects of boredom were felt.  The need to maintain a Witness seemed to preclude the deepest states of miserable boredom.  The challenge was to fight off the seeing, the insight, and the depth.  The Witness rose to the challenge, but then often threatened to become too interested in analyzing the experiment.  Over time, we were able to lull the Mind into bored dullness while keeping the Witness active yet uninterested.  A possible next step would be to attempt to sustain this state while letting the Auditor guide the Witness to explore the oneness that was glimpsed around time 3:42.  This would leave the realm of boredom, to embark on a new adventure.