Psychic Development

Not Doing:

The Importance of Boredom and Unpatterned Perception



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We spend a lot of time thinking we are bored, that we have nothing to do, but most of us haven't truly been bored since childhood. At the first itch of boredom, we pick up a book, turn on the television, go out to do errands. At that point we may tell ourselves we are still bored, but we are not. We have reengaged ourselves in common activities and perceptual patterns.

Approaching the edge of boredom can be like an intense itch. It is not so much an itch in the skin; it's more of an itch in the mind, in the awareness. Sitting there without the security of a book or the comforting drone of the television or radio, we start to squirm, to sweat, recite the shopping list, anything to scratch that itch.

How many times has your mind repeated these mantras in your head: "I'm busy. I'm being productive. I'm thinking up new ideas. I'm doing something important." We've taught ourselves to feel good about being busy. When activity is balanced, when it is not all consuming, then it usually is good. It invigorates the mind and soul. Constant busyness, however, is numbing.

You see, when we are active without rest, when we are busy, busy, busy, we stop feeling. Busyness to the point of numbness stops the flow of subtle perception. That raises the question, "What am I working so hard to not feel, think, or see?"

To be bored is to be on the verge of being startled awake. When you have nothing specific occupying your mind, you are in distinct danger of feeling again. And it can sure itch at first!

When your leg has fallen asleep and you rub it to wake it up, the tingling of circulation and restored sensory input can be excruciating for a few minutes. But once you get past that itching, you can feel again. You can walk and run and jump again.

As children, we instinctively recognized that we had to perceive the world in the same way as those around us. We quickly adopted society's limited perception of reality. Levels of awareness beyond this narrow range of socialized perception are usually being filtered out by puberty. This filtering process becomes extremely subtle and efficient by adulthood. Have you noticed that, as you grew out of childhood and entered puberty, one of your main activities became the constant avoidance of boredom? In fact, avoiding boredom is the real occupation of most adults.

Even as a child you may not have liked boredom, but a part of you gloried in it. In boredom worlds open up to us.

In order to tap into psychic levels of perception, whether for intuitive insight or to directly perceive subtle energies like the human aura, you need to train your awareness to slip past these filtering mechanisms. These filters are triggered into operation by our mental/perceptual patterns. By creating spaces in our lives when our habitual patterns are altered or randomized (in a balanced way), we create perceptual windows, opportunities to catch glimpses into new perceptual worlds.

Carlos Castaneda's teacher don Juan called this technique "not doing." What he meant by this is that almost everything we do is an expression of our socialized perception. In order to broaden your range of perception, you must create periods -- ten minutes, an hour, an afternoon -- in which you are actively not doing anything that is your normal pattern. When your conscious mind can anticipate too well what you are about to think or do next, it will filter what you perceive.

The simplest, most balanced way to overcome this is through boredom.

Sit on the ground outside and be bored.

You may have to wait a while for true boredom to settle in. You have to sit long enough for your mind to recognize that running through its lists and endless chatter won't cause you to automatically reengage in typical activities. Just sit there. Don't catalog all the things you see, or run through the list of tasks you want to accomplish that day. Just sit and watch, without interpreting.

As you are sitting there you are probably starting to feel foolish. Children may waste their time doing not much of anything, but adults have things to do. More social patterning. Ignore it. You are not trying to squash that response -- being able to recognize social norms and act within them is important. Instead, you are temporarily ignoring the reflex to follow habit. When it suits your purposes, you will again resume those patterns.

Next, you might notice a little fear arising. Examine that fear for a bit. What do you think might happen to you, sitting here on the ground doing nothing? The answer: I don't know. And that's the frightening part. Once you are truly bored, you are stepping into the unknown. You don't know what thoughts will occur to you, what your eye may notice, or how you will feel. You are stepping beyond the comfort of habitual patterns of perception.

You are starting to itch.

Breathe deeply, from the diaphragm, and relax. Gently resist the reflex to jump up and get busy with something, or even to continue sitting there but busying your mind with unnecessary thoughts. Just sit, relax, and watch. No rush, no hurry.

Congratulations! You can now begin to be truly bored.

You mind is no longer treading familiar paths tramped smooth through endless mental pacing. Your eye no longer knows what to settle upon. You are now in unexplored (or, at least, underexplored) territory.

What does your eye begin to notice? You will begin to see a richness of detail surrounding you, a diversity of light and form that you probably haven't noticed in years. Look at the grasses beneath you. What color are they? Don't say "green" out of reflex. Look. They aren't just green. They are every shade from brown to gold to green to darker shades approaching blue.

Are there any flowers near you? What colors are they? What shape? Don't prejudge what shape they will be based on your mental concept of "flower." Really look. What shape are they. Lean over and smell them. Don't tell yourself, "Oh, that's a beautiful scent," or "I can't smell anything." Just smell and notice, and then move on.

You aren't forming a mental catalog of all these things. You are just noticing, learning to observe without filtering those observations first.

Next, start paying attention to the sounds, loud and soft, pouring into your ears. What is the loudest sound you hear. Don't give the sound a name. Don't say, "That's a truck rumbling by." Instead, just notice the loud sounds, know them, know their sounds without labeling them. What is the softest sound you are conscious of? Really listen. Just notice the sounds without trying to figure out what they are.

Continue this process with touch, smell, even taste.

Through it all, don't follow too much of a pattern. Don't go left to right, don't go near to far. You want your perception to move in a comfortable, but unpatterned way.


For some, this exercise can be a little overwhelming. It can sometimes feel like a flood of detail pouring in through your senses. This is, in fact, one of the reasons we erect those filters -- to protect us from being overwhelmed with more than we can process. So don't push yourself too hard in this exercise. This is like a stretching exercise where you should reach to the point that you feel a little tension but not to the point of pain. With patient, balanced practice, you will find your perceptual limberness increasing.

After doing (or, rather, not doing) this exercise a number of times, you will begin to notice that you are involved in more than looking, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting. When your perception is less filtered, you begin on some level to simply feel your environment, as if you are merging with it on a subtle level.

The more you learn to dart past your perceptual filters, the more you will begin to notice other things as well -- subtle images and light flitting before your eyes, words and sounds humming in your inner ear, even the physical sensations of those around you. This level of perception has always been there, but your perceptual filters were blocking them out.

Don't forget that those perceptual filters have their purpose in everyday life. They aren't walls to be obliterated. They are curtains hanging in front of the doors and windows of perception. Once you recognize they are there, you can learn to draw them aside when you want to step beyond them.

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