Stay on Your Cushion: The Importance of ‘Hot’ and ‘Cool’ Boredom During Meditation

Written by David Nichtern

Boredom is an underrated experience in the modern world. The rate at which new information, new opportunities, new entertainment, new distractions are coming towards us is accelerating at a dizzying speed.

Many people come to meditation hoping to simply slow down the traffic jam in their head — to get a little space, a little clarity, a little “breather.”

We sit down to meditate in order to remember what it feels like to relate simply and directly to being present. We connect with our breathing to stabilize the feeling of being present and also take note of the activity in our mind streaming by. Our practice is to keep coming back to the to the breath and thereby to the present moment. This technique is extremely simple and can be very powerful and effective in calming our mind down and allowing us to feel more centered and balanced.

When we jump in and actually spend some time practicing meditation in this way, most of us will experience what my teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, called “hot boredom” — actually a kind of irritation based on a contrast between the habitual speed and energy of our everyday mind and the spacious and open quality that we have now begun to cultivate.

Due to our accumulated restlessness, inertia, and hyper-active lifestyles, we have actually developed a kind of allergy to simply sitting still and being present without making that into yet another project. It is like coming out of warp drive into a more moderate speed. In musical terms it would be characterized as a decelerando!

For those of you who are beginning to explore meditation practice, I suggest that you allow yourself to actually experience this “hot boredom” and not just jump off the cushion when that kind of restlessness is experienced. If you can stick with the practice and keep working with the speedy energy of your mind without freaking out or bolting, there is a very good possibility that you will be able to pass through the experience of hot boredom and reach the next gateway in your meditation practice, which Rinpoche called “cool boredom.”

When we hang in there and taste cool boredom as no big deal, we may begin to experience more ease and relaxation in our mind and in our life. We might find that we do not need to race to fill every possible gap, every possible open space with activity, projects, and accomplishment. We might actually find ourselves at the neighborhood coffee stop, taking time to “smell the coffee” — not just gulping it down to keep the rocketship of our life racing along.

Experiencing hot and cool boredom in this way could be, in fact, just what the doctor ordered!



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