Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

2 Perennial Methods to Banish Boredom

Banish Boredom with the I ChingWhat is my process when the last thing I want to do is finish the task I have set for myself? What do I do when I look through my stack of 500 notes for my current novel and instead of insight I fill with gloom? How do I banish boredom?

This is when ancient oracles rescue me.

How My Interests in the Esoteric Arts Began

For those of you who’ve read my story, “The Bones Beneath the Ground” or my novel The Consecration of Jacob Jordaens, you know there are references to the Tarot, witchcraft, and astrology.

Let me summarize and say I’ve always had an “experimental” mind set. I don’t “believe” in astrology or Tarot. I do however keep an open mind and look for insights to float in.

The tools in the esoteric arsenal are a means to explore subtler levels of the mind. (I’ll reserve my thoughts on how expansive the mind is for another post.)

I first discovered these tools fifty years ago.

From Domestic Turbulence to a Bookstore in Palo Alto

My first day at Stanford as a Freshman and while I was in the midst of Wilbur Dormitory orientation, my father called. Before cell phones, the announcement to go to the office was broadcast throughout the dorm. My father told me I had killed my mother by leaving home. An exaggeration, spawned from my father’s immense talent for the dramatic (after all, as well as an army sergeant, he was an opera singer).

My mother had had a sort of mini breakdown. But what was I to do? I had escaped the stifling, neurotic tension of home life, escaped constant battles with my father over sixties politics, from my mother’s cloying unhappiness, from the fear they’d discover I was gay, escaped to become free in what felt like the utopia of Stanford.

He, my Dad, knew there was nothing I could do. There was no reversal of accepted scholarships, to signed contracts and class schedules, or at least I argued with a desperate conviction.

I was setting off on a life apart from them. He only wanted to guilt me.

And guilt me he did. I had nightmares about killing my mother. I called home. She wouldn’t answer. I slept less. Began not to eat.

Classes had not started. It was orientation week. Thank God. I couldn’t have focused on studying.

One weekend afternoon, sunny — I remember the golden glow of late afternoon autumn in Palo Alto — I found a corner bookstore, specializing in the esoteric, the arcane, in subjects of which I knew nothing. The titles seized me, promised an end to the growing malaise, the shadow on my new life.

The summer before I had taken an advanced placement class in the pioneers of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Jung, Adler. Jung’s blending of the archetypal, the mystical, and the intimacies of my own individual psyche had the most appeal.

And here on the shelf before me was Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching with a forward by C.G. Jung. I bought it. The first book in my now rather large arcane library.

I have that book to this day. And isn’t it ironic — it now being late September 2015 — that today, almost to the day, is 50 years later? [Coincidence? Who knows? But these synchronicities have marked the milestones of my life.]

A friend, or perhaps my ex-wife, made a cloth cover to protect the book. With its swirls of red and black, suggesting the orient and the transcendent, the book stands out on my bookshelf.

With the I Ching, my separation from family and my growth into myself began.

Fifty Years Later, How I Use the I Ching to Banish Boredom

Not all tasks are a joy.  For example, I have a mess of notes for my current novel, with the following categories: characters, locations, secrets, events, and relationships.

How do these notes relate to the plot?

The first task I set for myself is to reread my current draft and write in the margin where each note applies. There are several hundred notes. This will take time.

Yet it doesn’t reveal how the big picture shifts. How is my gut changing vis a vis what The Temptation of Moira Connery means? To know this I need an overview of how these notes, captured over past months, relate to one another. I use Tinderbox (Using Tinderbox to Revise a Novel) to mind map these relationships.

More than five hundred notes, each needing to be mapped in the draft, each needing to be related to one another.

Much tedium involved.

Yet I plod on, because I have faith there will be revelation: the intent (theme) and direction of my novel will become crystal clear.

Yet instead of revelation, a familiar heaviness — a sense of how much an unending drag the task is — creeps in.

What to Do When the Shadow Blankets Every Good Intention?

Starting with that first seduction by the occult in Palo Alto, I have looked beneath the surface. I look for the abstract, the metaphysical beneath the dilemma.

In this case, I want to know,“What is the relationship of tedium to fulfilling work one loves?”

To find an answer I could have plugged the question into Google and discovered what others thought. I might get some insight.

But I knew the first answers needed to come from my own subconscious. Later, I could find out what others thought. After all, it was my subconscious throwing up roadblocks in the form of this unbearable boredom.

The I Ching Proves to Be a Reliable Key

I toss three coins six times and come up with the following:

The hexagram 38 (Alienation) moves to 61 (Emptiness).

Since my goal is not to explicate I Ching interpretation, I’ll dive into what the ancient Taoist descriptions of the two hexagrams mean to me.

It All Comes Down to Perception.

Tedium isn’t inherent in the work but in ones brain.

Maybe fatigue causes boredom after sticking to the task too long?

The oracle says boredom sets in when the rate at which new insights arrive is too slow.

What Solution Does the I Ching Suggest?

Assume an attitude of Emptiness or Openness.

Believe answers will come from that mysterious somewhere, with which — however labeled — all writers, indeed all creators, are familiar.

Rest and adopt a hopeful attitude, because this too — boredom — shall pass.

Now’s the Time for the Google Oracle

Our first method, ancient, yet still useful is to toss the coins and read the hexagrams.

Our second method, introduced by technology, yet as perennial as the first, if we think of it as research, is to turn to a search engine.

To expand my understanding I took “What is the relationship of tedium to fulfilling work one loves?” and pasted it into a Google search.
My first hit, was a delightful dialogue written by Oscar Wilde called “The Critic as Artist”; it doesn’t get a high relevance score for our question, but it did put me in a good mood.

With more relevance, the site “How to find meaning in tedious work | Work Happy Now!” came up. It begins, “One thing I’ve learned over the past three years of researching work happiness is work doesn’t make you unhappy. Only you can do that,” emphasizing our I Ching’s answer, but with less eloquence.

Finding Your Oracle

Try it. You will find it helpful. And technology even allows you to consult I Ching online in sites such as I Ching Online.

A judicious grappling with vague pains, ennuis, dissatisfactions floating into consciousness throughout the day, using tools such as I Ching, Tarot, and Google can grow us as writers and people.

Also, going to the “oracle” can prevent dissatisfaction from growing into mental paralysis, or even depression, which can derail work in which we once engaged with joy.

No need when there’s such an easy fix, and three coins and technology makes it much easier than taking a trip to Delphi.

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2 Replies

  1. Chris

    Hi, Michael: Very interesting post. I find the Rune readings I do to be extremely helpful at focusing thoughts. I generate a question and then see what the runes bring up. I also enjoy the whole realm of depth psychology and have worked since the 1970s with Ira Progroff’s methodology for journaling on multiple dimensions mainly to explore one’s inner self in relation to one’s outer experiences. Meditation comes into play in this approach. It will take me just an hour to read your runes….just send me a question and I will send you some food for thought in relation to that question. This, to me, is not something you need to “believe in”— it is merely a tool to stimulate thinking and move you along on your inquiry.

  2. Michael Brown

    Chris, Thanks for your feedback. The Progoff methodology is something I have heard about but never explored. Would love to hear more some time. Michael

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