Resistance and Boredom: Hostility Without Enthusiasm
Somewhere along the line, we will bump into those who claim either the information is boring or that they are bored. Ever been bored? Boredom can be a fascinating subject to explore.
Way back when, as I was a foundering undergraduate at UC Davis, I wound up in a series of encounter groups. Encounter groups were a distinctly 1960’s signature – groups of individuals involved in expanding self awareness through structured and unstructured interactions with others. Most of the encounter groups I found myself involved with had a distinctly gestalt psychology bent.
So, what is boredom and when does it occur? According to Fritz Perls, often considered to be the “father of gestalt therapy,” boredom is one of the first signs of terror. Now what does that mean?
One interpretation is that boredom is a way of going numb inside when the requirement for change appears too daunting, difficult or threatening. The real issue is one of perceived threat. Only what does threatening mean in this context?
Remember earlier on when we talked some about resistance? Well, I’d like to take another look at the subject.
You may recall that we talked about resistance often showing up when understanding is insufficient. If I find myself in a situation that I don’t understand, and in particular, one that is difficult for me, I may not perceive many choices about how to respond (response-ability).
Now let’s say that the situation is of particular importance to me, ranging anywhere from how to succeed over to how to stay safe. Sometimes, when I don’t know what to do, I may just shut down in one way or another in an attempt to block or resist the difficult situation. Often this takes the form of becoming stubborn.
Ever been stubborn? “Nope. Just highly selective in what I choose to do. “ Very funny. Now let’s just acknowledge that we do get stubborn from time to time. “No I don’t!”
Ah, there you have it – proof! Just try saying “No, I don’t” or “No, I won’t.” Say it right out aloud. No, really – say it out loud right now. Say it again, only this time with a bit more force in your voice. In fact, try saying it with your teeth clenched.
Are you beginning to notice anything familiar? How about body sensations associated with the clenched teeth and forceful speech? If you try it just one or two more times, you may notice that some part of your lower abdomen actually clenches or tightens right along with your teeth. In fact, the more forcefully you utter the words, “No, I won’t,” the more you tighten in the abdomen.
Did you notice the tightening? Even if you didn’t, please hang in here with me. This could be pretty important stuff.
Now let’s try a different experiment. Take one of your hands, make it into a fist, and then squeeze that fist just as hard as you can – and keep squeezing. Keep squeezing until I ask you to let go – and keep squeezing. As you continue to squeeze, how does your hand feel? In particular, how do your fingers feel inside your fist?
As you keep squeezing, after only a minute or so, you may notice that your hand and fingers are beginning to go numb. KEEP SQUEEZING! As you continue to squeeze, look down at the top of your fist, around the thumb and forefinger. You will probably notice areas that are much more red than others, and some areas where the color is just about completely gone. That’s the blood pooling in one area, and leaving another.
By now, most of you will find that the hand has become pretty much numb. When something goes numb, it usually starts off as some form of pain or discomfort; however, after a while, we sort of get used to it, go numb, and then things are “just fine.”
In just a moment, but NOT NOW, I will ask you to let go of your fist, but in a very particular way. I will ask you to begin letting go as slowly as you possibly can, as though your hand were molasses in January, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.
Go ahead and begin to let go as slowly as you possibly can. What do you notice?
If you are like most people, the hand, and in particularly the fingers, do not seem to move very fluidly the fingers kind of creaking right along; in fact, you may notice that part way along the path of releasing, they almost seem paralyzed or stuck.
Did you notice that creaking or stuck-like sensation? If so, that’s what it can be like when you attempt to move slowly through an area where you find you have been resistant.
It starts in a somewhat painful way, we try to ignore the pain or discomfort, wind up numb and stuck, and then when we finally do try to let go, we find ourselves awkward, stiff and basically frozen.
From a health management point of view, this is not so good. If you are literally squeezing in some part of your body, you are likely impeding the flow of blood and other forms of energy or life force. If you squeeze hard enough, long enough, you may find some form of illness or dis-ease manifesting in that area of the body.
Now, I’m not a medical doctor, so don’t take these words as anything other than something to observe inside yourself and see if you notice anything that makes sense to you. The main idea here is to note that when in some form of resistance, the “flow” of life ceases to be so fluid, and things get stuck. Or is it, I get stuck?
So, what do you do if you find yourself in some form of resistance? Well, back we go to the old “participate in your experience and experience your participation” bit of advice. If you are stuck, can you get even more stuck? If so, you may be on the road to discovering the source of your stuckness, or pain, or lack of flow, or general well-being.
How do you move through or past the stuckness or resistance? The general advice is to surrender as fully, completely, and swiftly as you possibly can. Now, if you are game, you can try the fist squeezing game again, only this time squeezing BOTH hands at the same time.
So, read the next couple of sentences, and then try this out. When you are ready, begin squeezing both hands as tightly as you can. Notice the blood pooling up, the areas losing their color, and the numbness that begins to settle in. After about two minutes, you should probably find that both hands are in that numb zone. When you are fully there in both hands, we will then have you release both hands, but in two different ways. With one hand, we’d like you to let go as before – as slowly as possible. With the other hand, just shoot it out, as fast as possible.
So, go ahead – start squeezing both hands, and when they are both numb, begin the simultaneous releasing, one as slowly as possible, one as fast as possible.
What did you notice? Again, if you are like most people, the hand that you released quickly, probably had a short, sort of sharp burst of discomfort or pain, and then quickly restored to normal – able to move fluidly, no longer numb, no longer in pain. The other hand, the one that went slowly, probably still feels stuck, somewhat numb, and still a long way from feeling normal.
So why did we have you do this?
A bunch of reasons, actually. If you find yourself in resistance, going numb, you may want to ask yourself what you are resisting. In most instances, you will probably find you are resisting something inside your own self while telling yourself you are resisting something or someone outside your own self.
Often the resistance comes from some form of fear or doubt. The fear or doubt often shows up as a concern for your own safety or well being. Now, don’t get me wrong, concerns about safety or well being could be founded in reality, so we aren’t going to suggest that you rush head long into something just because you have some doubt or fear.
What we are going to suggest, is that you look more closely at what you are feeling to see if, in fact, the fears or doubts are founded in reality or are they coming more from your own inner imagination.
Have you ever scared yourself by persisting in thoughts about what might go wrong? Think back to when you were a little kid. Ever imagine that there was a bogey man out there? For me, I was sure that the bogey man lived under the bed, and I sure could scare myself by imagining what kind of bad things he could do to me.
If you have ever been there, whether as a little kid or your current, older self, than you can probably relate to one of life’s odd little facts: a thought persisted in will eventually produce a feeling to go along with it. A fear persisted in will eventually show up as a bodily sensation, often in the stomach area, back of the neck or shoulders, etc. Now the odd part is that when the sensation show up, most of us will assume it must be “real” because we can feel it.
One of my early mentors suggested that feelings are to be noticed, just not necessarily followed. If the feeling shows up, look to see what produced it. If you “almost” got hit by a car while crossing the road, the “almost” part gets a fair bit of mental attention and the body based feelings tend to show up pretty quickly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – after all, it could be a form of inner awareness showing up to say something like, “next time, look more closely before crossing the road.” Even if the driver were “at fault” because you were in the crosswalk, you still had the opportunity to notice, rather than assume, and make a more deliberate, safety oriented choice.
And, we all have walked in front of some kind of car, whether literally or figuratively. So, if the fear or doubt shows up, we recommend something along the line of: “if in doubt, don’t do; when in doubt, check it out.” That particular piece of advice first came to me as part of my early training as a gestalt psychologist, although not in such neat little package. My friend and mentor, John-Roger, put the phrase together and I have found that it has a lot of wisdom tied together in a small package.
It doesn’t stop at “don’t do;” rather, it suggests that you slow down, take a look, get involved so you can learn, and determine from your own experience what is being shown to you. It doesn’t say resist, fight, blame, get stuck, run away or anything of the kind. Just notice, learn, move on.
However, most of us have had the experience of dwelling on the negative imagination, conjuring up any manner of negative outcomes, and producing associated negative feelings to go with the negative thoughts. The paralysis that shows up may seem like a form of safety when, in fact, it actually becomes a form of prison, trapping us in the negative feelings or fear.
Many have formulated the word “fear” as an acronym:
F – Fantasy
E – Expectations
A – Appearing
R – Real
Again, just a form of imagination (image in and act it out). If you hold onto the negative imagination or fantasy, the “act it out” part may become the paralysis the prevents us from moving forward.
So, back to the notion of boredom as one of the first signs of terror. If you find yourself encountering a set of circumstances or information that collide head long with previously held beliefs, you may find yourself in a set of internal conflicts. And those conflicts may be painful in one way or another.
I have met more than one person in the course of the work that I do who has constructed a “story” about their life circumstances, about why they can’t achieve something, be someone, experience something they would prefer, because of something that happened earlier in their life, because of something someone else did or said.
In the hundreds and hundreds of seminars I have lead around the world, I have frequently encountered the complaint: “this is boring.” In helping the “bored” dig underneath the boredom, what I have found most of the time is someone who is up against a life foundation that hasn’t served them well, is keeping them stuck at a current level of dissatisfaction, and now find themselves facing the reality that much of their life experience is a result of their own choices.
Now, for many, this kind of budding awareness can be thrilling, liberating, exciting. For others, however, it becomes frightening. “Oh no! Does this mean it’s all ‘my fault?’ What am I going to do? How am I going to correct all this? What will everyone think of me if I change direction?” And all manner of similar thoughts.
For these individuals, the thought of having to acknowledge response-ability and accountability for choices made so far, and having to take response-ability and accountability for changing things, becomes overwhelmingly fearful. Or terrifying.
Boredom shows up as a form of self-defense. “I’m bored” often disguises the underlying fear of change and turns into a mental defense against looking underneath current life circumstances for deeper opportunities to improve. For them, the “what if” game is one of likely defeat, and they have more than enough experience with defeat. Why risk it again?
Hence, boredom can be “one of the first signs of terror.”
If we continue the process of wrapping all of these various themes together, we need to keep at the notion of “what if” as it applies to awareness, choice, responsibility and accountability.
Remember the notion of “CPA” we asked you to consider earlier on? What if every condition of your life experience were a function of something you did to create, promote or allow it (CPA)? Let’s suppose that some part of this information begins to awaken a deeper level of awareness wherein you begin to see choices you have made that have produced some life experiences that you previously blamed on external circumstances or other people.
If that were to happen, it might shake you at a pretty deep level. The wise response to the shaking would be to let go of whatever you were holding on to and begin to move to a new perspective, to adopt the new perspective, to adjust previous life assumptions, and to make new, more useful or uplifting choices.
However, that might mean letting go of old excuses, old patterns, old reasons why you have not experienced the successes or experiences you say you want. Remember the story about the banquet table of life and the handful of weevily peanuts? In order to get to the banquet table, you have to let go of the peanuts. And what do you have if you drop the peanuts? NOTHING for the moment. And that can be scary.
If you recognize past choices and current stories about why you have not produced that which you say you want, and it all comes down to you, then you have a choice and an opportunity. The choice is to make a new choice, and the opportunity is to begin moving more fully toward what you truly want out of life.
However, there is also a risk and a perceived downside. The risk is perhaps one of self perception (how could I have been the one responsible – response able – for these results) as well as one of how the rest of the world might perceive you. What if you have to give up all the stories you have told yourself, your friends, and the rest of the world about why you don’t have what you say you want?
The freeing choice and realization is one of “no wonder I haven’t gotten there yet! Now I understand! Now I know what to do differently as I go forward.”
If, however, you interpret the awareness as one of embarrassment or any other form of negative self image, it might be difficult to move forward. The fear of having to accept responsibility (or blame, if that’s how you hold it), could become incapacitating.
Faced with accepting and acknowledging your role and possible downside risks, an internal numbing takes place and that sometimes manifests as boredom. Again, the numbing quality of boredom can be “the first sign of terror.”
Stewart Emery of Actualizations fame suggests that boredom is “hostility without enthusiasm.” I love that one as well.
Enthusiasm is one of those words that is also fun to play with. Over time, the word has come to suggest something about the mind and excitement, all of which moves toward involvement or active engagement. Using this definition, we would say boredom implies hostility (a form of anger or resistance) without active engagement. Nice!
Even better is to go back to the root words for enthusiasm: en (in) + theos (god). Both Latin and Greek derivations of the word mean something akin to “being inspired by God.” Over time, especially around those challenging times characterized by religious fervor seeing the devil in all things, the word became one with a derogatory meaning.
I still favor the notion of divine inspiration. (And inspiration itself means something about divine influence or divine guidance).
So if boredom is “hostility without enthusiasm,” then it might also mean “hostility or resistance without divine guidance.”
And what would divine guidance suggest? To me, it is about involvement and engagement. Again, our friends at dictionary.com define involvement as “action for change” and as “engaging the interests or emotions or commitment.”
So, the real message here is that if something shows up that seems to be preventing you from moving forward, be it fear, doubt, or boredom, look underneath the fear, doubt or boredom, to see what beliefs are preventing you from moving forward. Play the “what if” game.
There may be something “divine” to learn. And besides all the spiritual connotations of “divine,” the word also means “something extremely good or unusually lovely.”