mindfulness boredom schoppenhauer genius appreciation of reality

Schopenhauer’s genius and mindful boredom

Arthur Schopenhauer said something very interesting:

“Genius is the power of leaving one’s own interests, wishes, and aims entirely out of sight… so as to remain pure knowing subject, clear vision of the world.”

He argued that talent allows people to get to where other’s cannot get, while genius allows to solve problems that other’s don’t see. By that logic, Uber and Facebook are examples of genius – with a hefty dose of being in the right place at the right time.

What strikes me about this quote by Schopenhauer is how Eastern it is. I have been thinking about the subject of dreaming of a better future vs fully engaging with reality. It seems like there is no way to set goals without trading in some of the appreciation of what’s currently going on. By setting goals, we almost certainly forego the opportunity to experience what Schopenhauer called genius.

Being grounded in reality is possibly the thing we run from the most. We call it boredom. How many apps do you open on your phone just to not be alone with yourself and your surroundings when you’re on your own? I, for one, open too many. And before there were apps, books and music – there were daydreams. Boredom is a form of pain – according to Schopenhauer. He said it was an issue of affluence: if one moves on from satisfying the most basic needs, boredom becomes the source of discomfort to deal with next.

Boredom seems to upset children too. They are generally excellent at finding solutions to it: in fact, I’ve always been encouraged “to do x, y and z – because it’s better than being bored”. This is also why children hate school: there’s no escape from boredom. Boredom is vilified from the get-go.

Maybe it’s time to be bored – and not to plug every free minute by consuming something in a directed manner. Having too much direction – too many goals – leaves us with a kind of schizophrenia-by-choice – as it is splitting us away from what’s actually going on. It’s not a comfortable thought for me. All along, I’ve been sailing towards certain coasts, catching up with milestones and deadlines – while becoming progressively wrapped up in my own bubble. At the same time, I am terrified of not sailing in a direction: the thought of waking up one day when I am x age and realising I’ve nothing to show for the last y years is scary. However, it is clearly also silly. By being more mindful of what’s going on – rather than constantly having my eyes on the prize, I will surely be mindful of what way my own life is unfolding.

A focus on the present moment doesn’t mean becoming reactive and directionless. It’s not about passively accepting everything that happens and losing all sense of agency. It’s about acknowledging what’s going on and what one can do about it – while letting go of illusions. I am talking about – most of all – the illusions propagated by modern-day influencers that we can create the future. In a sense, we can, but not through brute determination and risk taking – rather through relentless examination of what’s around us – and that means embracing boredom.

On a personal note, I have a very long night connection flight coming up soon – and I realised that I was dreading it. Why? Because I feared the impending boredom. For some reason, I can’t fully relax into a book or film while I am travelling. Then I remembered something I’d noticed year ago. Some of my most significant realisations tend to happen when I am travelling. Long connecting flights are better than any meditation retreat. One has to be alert enough to be on time, watch out for gate changes and not lose one’s boarding pass – and kind of kill time too. This state allows me to be ok with the fact that I will be bored. I am inevitably grateful with what bubbles up to the surface through this boredom.

mindfulness boredom schoppenhauer genius appreciation of reality

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