This story is from The Pulse, a weekly health and science podcast.
In “Anna Karenina,” Russian writer Leo Tolstoy once described boredom as a “desire for desires,” a restless commotion arising out of not knowing what to do.
For linguist Justin McDaniel, boredom means something much more literal:
“To bore a hole in something. Meaning that you are pierced, you’re rendered frozen, and then you’re emptied out,” he described. “It’s like a beginning.”
That new beginning started for McDaniel when he traveled to Thailand in his early 20s, expecting to volunteer and teach English. Instead, he became a monk in a remote Buddhist monastery on an island between Thailand and Laos.
“The closest thing to monastic life is military life or prison,” McDaniel said. “You have to do a lot of these tasks that go against your instincts, go against protein, go against procreation because you’re celibate.
“In my monastery we had 243 rules — from the way you speak to how you go to the bathroom, how you walk, every movement you make,” McDaniel said. “The one thing that is not captured is your mind.”
It was a simple life with very few choices and a lot of chores that had to be done every day.
“Tomorrow, you have to sweep the path again,” he said. “There’s going to be dust on the Buddha statue; you polish it again. It just seems endless.”
But for McDaniel, there was a lot of beauty in those simple tasks.