My wife and I went to a Cirque du Soleil show. From the start to the end, this show was pure sugar for the senses; a rush of colours, live music, super-human feats of acrobatic beauty and athleticism, all toped off with a whip-cream dollop of mystery and surprise. It was wonderful! The best forms of entertainment take spectators to other places, they delight and enthral – Cirque du Soleil did this all for me. After driving home that evening, still buzzing with enthusiasm, I pulled through our quiet street. The street lights were the same dull yellow, families were watching TV in their living rooms, and my own home was dark and, well, comparatively boring.
Boring, it seems, is the the natural default position for most of our lives. We eat, we work, we come, and we go. Yet the way we value ‘boring’ may be the starting place for a new way of seeing the world around us. Instead of fixating our imagination on the next entertaining circus act we can find, maybe we’re to turn our imaginations further into those boring things around us.
A study was done by Dr. Sandi Mann into the value of boredom for creativity. Her studies discovered that certain kinds of boredom lead to daydreaming and this actually increases the mind’s ability to come up with new ideas. She found that the longer researchers engaged their subjects in thoroughly boring circumstances, their ability to come up with new ideas or solutions increased. Boredom, she discovered, leads to creativity. It may be that moments of intentional input-free boredom may be just the thing we need to inspire healthy creativity and engagement.
On most days our neighbourhoods do not play host to entertaining festivals, fairs, or concerts. Rather our streets and parks may be quiet places where people simply walk, sit, work, and relax. Our neighbourhoods are naturally quite boring. Even now, outside my window, a neighbour is watching his grandkids wobble their bikes back and forth along our street. The thrill of a kid on training wheels is a far cry from the fantastical world of Cirque du Soleil, but the impact that boring moments and quiet settings bring to those who know their value is profound.
Boredom has become something we aim to avoid. With smart-phones always at the ready to provide steady entertainment, we’re able to avoid boredom at all times. Jonny Smallwood, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of York says, “What smartphones allow us to do is get rid of boredom in a very direct way because we can play games, phone people, we can check the Internet. It takes away the boredom, but it also denies us the chance to see and learn about where we truly are in terms of our goals.” As we avoid boredom we risk stepping right past those moments of creative engagement with those around us. We risk failing to see the kids and their grandpa playing on the street, or the quiet family who lives on the corner. In fact the most important details of God’s work in our neighbourhoods could be completely off of our radar if we do not position ourselves to see it. By embracing the beauty of boring moments, we become people who can truly see God at work. When we see God at work, it becomes anything but boring.