CLEAN-UP AUSTRALIA DAY has just gone, for the fourth year since it was started, and for the third time, a group of friends and I volunteered to participate in it.
It was raining when I got up at my usual early hour, with more showers forecast for later. The day dawned gray and overcast, and I thought few of the volunteers would turn up, but around the agreed upon time, they began to arrive. Among the first to come was a couple in their seventies, and later came a group of teenagers; so we were a mixed bunch.
When all who were expected had assembled, with no absentees, we dared the sullen sky, and set off to the park where we had been assigned to work. We were met by someone in charge of operations, who showed us where our energies could be most usefully expended: along the road that ran beside the park. We split up into two groups, and began at the extremities of the park, working back towards each other, to meet in the middle.
Not surprisingly, the roadside was littered with garbage that had been flung, for the most part, from passing cars: soft drink cans, beer cans, bottles, junk food wrappers, plastic bags, cigarette packets, etc. We had been issued sacks, and the man in charge came by in his car every twenty minutes or so to pick up the full sacks and give us replacements. Now and then, people beeped and waved as they drove past, in obvious approval of what we were doing.
One boy of about 16, however, who had been press-ganged by his father into coming along, complained several times of how boring it was to pick up garbage, as if he'd been doing it for the past ten years or more without a break, instead of just that morning for the very first time. I told him that it ― and anything else, for that matter would be boring if he set out with the idea that it would be, or expected it to be, but if he hadn't first made up his mind about it, and had understood what was the purpose of picking up garbage, then, far from being bored, he might even enjoy it; all the other people did, and their hands were just as much in contact with the garbage as his were, and they got just as tired as he did. Or did they? On second thoughts, they probably didnít, as they were working with joy, while he was working begrudgingly. If we work with joy, we are able to work longer and more efficiently, and we don't become so tired.
Now, I would like to digress a little here, to explain that for the past few months, I have been a guest in someone's house, and have tried to help out somewhat by doing various light jobs around the place such as mowing the lawn and weeding the garden. Outside the front fence, beside the road, there is a strip of grass that each house owner is supposed to keep mown. The strip outside our house runs, unbroken, outside the house of the neighbors on our right, and so, when mowing our part, I also mow the neighbors' part if it hasn't already been done. Noticing this, someone asked me if the neighbors ever acknowledged this or thanked me, and when I said no, and that I hadn't even met the neighbors, and wouldn't know them if I met them face-to-face on the street, he seemed surprised that I should do it. So I told him that we don't always do things for what we might get in return, but simply because they are there to be done, and not to do them would be to display petty mindedness. In this case, it is immaterial if the neighbors do not reciprocate by cutting our strip while they are cutting theirs; the neighbors are the neighbors, and we are we.
So, picking up garbage was merely an opportunity of doing something ― putting something in ― without thinking of getting anything in return. Of course, there is a result ― immediately: a feeling of satisfaction at having participated in a positive activity for the community, though this is not the reason for doing it; seeing how things are, and taking the opportunity by the hand, we respond, that's all. Hundreds-of-thousands of other people nationwide responded in a similar manner.
Now, as to boredom ― which is the main point of this article ― is it not self-created? And is it not a form of suffering? And are we not, therefore, stupid? Picking up garbage for a couple of hours is not boring, as the young boy claimed, but, on the contrary, it was he who was dull and small minded, focussing just on himself in isolation, and not understanding ― or ignoring ― why he was doing what he was doing. Where did he get his concept of boredom from? What standard was he going by? Was it his own, born from his experience and observation, or was it, like the fashions that people follow, merely adopted wholesale from others?
If we set out on an enterprise ― any enterprise ― with minds already made up about what is going to happen, we restrict ourselves, and block off many possibilities. We should give ourselves a break, and try to be open to the unexpected, instead of sticking rigidly to plans and ideas, for no two days ― or two anything, in fact ― are the same, and we cannot possibly imagine what's going to happen in the day that lies before us when we wake up in the morning. If we were to treat life as the adventure that it is, instead of trying to plan everything, it would be much more interesting and exciting, and we would have little reason to complain about being bored. I'm not implying that we should live completely without plans, but that whatever plans we have should be held with a degree of flexibility, so that if they don't work out, or if something else comes along to change them, we won't feel so bad about it and might even welcome it; things often work out better when we don't plan them; they have an element of serendipity about them.
It is important that parents expose their children in their early years to a certain amount of monotony, instead of trying to keep them constantly entertained or amused, in order for them to become familiar with something that, later on in their lives, they will certainly encounter plenty of. If children are deprived of opportunities to confront and deal with monotony, they might never develop the ability to do so, for many of our 'survival skills' are acquired during these formative years, rather than afterwards. Overly fond and protective parents actually do their children a disservice by providing too much entertainment, and thereby enhance the propensity in their children to depend upon things outside of themselves for their enjoyment and happiness.
I have long said that it would be infinitely better to listen more to ourselves than we do, and depend less upon others to teach us, for there are many things which we know naturally, it seems, many things hidden deep in the mind, which, if they are not smothered by so much education, might emerge to stand us in good stead. Lyall Watson, in his book GIFTS OF UNKNOWN THINGS, says "I wish there were some way of reconciling formal education and natural knowing. Our inability to do this is a terrible waste of one of our most valuable resources. There is a fund of knowledge, a different kind of information, common to all people everywhere. It is embodied in folklore and superstition, in mythology and old wives' tales. It has been allowed to persist simply because it is seldom taken seriously and has never been seen to be a threat to organized science or religion. It is a threat, because inherent in the natural way of knowing is a sense of rightness that in this time of transition and indecision could serve us very well."
Several times, when I have presented things in a simple, broad, un-dogmatic and non-sectarian way, someone has said, "Is that what it's all about? But I've known that for years already! It's so clear!" Yes, that's just it; there's nothing arcane or mysterious to be learned or mastered; all we must do is return to ourselves, and discover what we've got and have had all along. But we are looking in the wrong direction, ever outward from ourselves, instead of inwards. Is it the 'common sense' that we've heard about all our lives? This term is just one of many that most people have never thought about, and assume that it means something 'ordinary' and commonplace, whereas in fact, it means something that we have in common, like the string that runs through a necklace of beads; we all have it, but few of us are aware of it and in this sense, it is rare rather than common.
With herd mentality, we adopt, unquestioningly, the standards of others only because we are unsure of ourselves and lack self-confidence. As we become more sure of ourselves, we begin to let go of external supports and go our own way. This sometimes leads to eccentricity, of course, but in my book that is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn't disturb or hurt others; I am more concerned about conformity than a little eccentricity.
Albert Einstein is famous as a scientific genius, but when he was in primary school, he was regarded by at least one of his teachers as mentally retarded, though this might have been because they did not perceive his potential, and were trying to measure him by their standards, which did not apply to him. Later on in life, when his genius had been widely recognized, all kinds of people vied for the honor of his company, and he was the star guest at many distinguished gatherings. At one such party, he was filmed wearing two different shoes, and without socks! He explained that he had grown tired of holes developing in his socks, so had decided not to wear them any more.
Because of his fame, people accepted his idiosyncrasies and looked up to him, but had he been a social nonentity, they would no doubt have despised him as a bum!
Those of us who are fortunate enough not to live under totalitarian regimes have tremendous opportunities to throw off the fetters of standardization and find ourselves; sadly, few of us avail ourselves of our opportunities, and are content to conform; it's easier that way. But even our nonconformity is often only an inverted conformity, as we hit out blindly and without intelligence or purpose at things we don't like or agree with, failing to see that our rebellion is merely an endorsement of the things we rebel against, and brings about little discernible or positive change. To deny is to affirm.
To sum up: Things in themselves are not boring; it is we who become bored with them, for various reasons, and if we understood this, we would not be the impotent victims of boredom that we often are. I cannot honestly say that I never feel bored, but I do know that there are ways of looking at boredom which lessen its grip on us, even if it's only to remind ourselves that everything changes and nothing lasts forever; it helps.
Give yourself a break, therefore, by not living as though you know the future. Many surprising things lie in store for you; sit loosely in the saddle, and stay awake!