I sit, alone in Maine, under the beauty of fall. The leaves are breathtaking but they are not the source of my peace. This is first time in months that I have stolen more than a few hours for just myself. Now, after a day and a half, I finally have exhaled my first sigh of relief.

I could hear the sigh. It wasn’t drowned out by my life’s ever-present white noise. My usual day has a constant sound track of cars, refrigerators, and eavesdropped conversations. Occasionally I avoid these by pumping music or podcasts directly into my ears. Though, sometimes they feel like solace, these aren’t escapes from noise. Instead, they are just noise more focused and at higher volume.

Now, each falling acorn grabs my attention. A bit of boredom accelerates my mind to focus on these rooftop plops. Each gust of wind tosses a dozen more into the air, gravity accelerates their trajectories. Until they hit a roof, or branch or staircase. With each sound, my mind runs a scan, determining location and surface. Part of me cringes at the distraction. Part of celebrates the simplicity of the cognition.

I train daily to minimize my distractibility. I use tools that allow me to work in a crowded busy room. In fact, I must be clipping my wings on both sides of the spectrum. By sitting in a distraction filled room, my mind must sacrifice some of its focus. By working to ignore, I must lose a large chunk of my awareness.

Here, I come to terms with boredom. Sometimes we should work our brains to a breaking point, where we lose all ability for constructive thoughts until we’ve slept. Sometimes we need to starve our brains of input, until they are craving even a simple external distraction. Occasionally, I push to my cognitive peak, but rarely do I allow myself to fall into boredom. Purposefully entering and exiting boredom helps us flex our curiosity.

To me, boredom is the breeding ground of innovation. If an idea is a bacteria, boredom is a petri dish. Given a little time in a state of boredom, an idea will grow and take over. Random evolutions occurring as it morphs and multiplies. Only then can a critical mind’s eye pick out the important gems, the innovations. When we seemingly come to idea in an instant, we miss the fact that this sub neural growth has flourished for hours or years. When we sit with a notebook and pen, we are analyzing each square nanometer of our dish. We don’t house a very clean lab in our mind. Our mental microscope peers close to each dish, picking up residue that will ultimately cross contaminate everything that is looked at in the future. Our incubator is active whenever we go for a walk, when we lie in bed waiting for sleep, when we dream. When we sit upon a toilet without taking out our phone. When we go for a long drive without the radio blasting. Each time we turn on a TV show, or click play on a podcast, we turn the temperature on the incubator down low, into a freeze of suspended animation.

Header photo © Sam Woolf 2016 (Pleasant Lake at Night, Maine)