11/27/2013 04:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Meditation for the Damned

You guys! Great news: Researchers have identified a new, fifth kind of boredom.

It's true! Apparently the first four -- behavioral psychology fans may know them as indifferent, recalibrating, searching and reactant -- were apparently getting a little musty, a little inadequate to describe what researchers say is a new, ultramodern kind of disinterested numbness, as experienced by a small percentage of German students on particular days when they just don't give a damn about anything or whatever. I mean, who cares? Just shut up and leave me alone, okay? Geez.

Apathetic boredom is your hot new flavor, which may sound a little redundant, which might sound downright silly, but if that's what you think, well, you clearly don't deserve to be a boredom researcher, blithely adding to the great tradition of sub-dividing our many contrived woes into smaller and smaller categories, so we may carry them around like spiteful pets, trot them out at parties and make everyone sad.


This is serious! There just might be a link between boredom and depression, you see, so maybe it's helpful to categorize fleeting and silly emotions in young people who are, by definition, obnoxiously jaded and uninterested, and have them keep a log of exactly how frequently they wish to turn off this crap-tastic blob of a world so they can play more videogames and eat cheese. Science!

Meanwhile! In more chipper news, Harvard medical is currently spending a whopping $3.3 million to test a time-honored truism that everyone already knows and no one expects to be in any way false. It's a hunk of cosmic obviousness that mystics, gurus, yogis and even Steve Jobs have been saying since well before Jesus was a tingle in God's Dockers. Can you guess?

Meditation really is good for you, Harvard is spending a huge pile of money to prove, for the 10,000 time, though this time they really meant it because, you know, it's Harvard. It's medical. So I guess we can finally take it seriously.

Harvard is actually focusing on measuring the physiological response to meditation -- not just mental -- with the expectant result that skillful meditators will feel, look, taste, screw, eat, sleep, dream, love, work, move and smile better than people who don't, because obviously.

Also, less stress. Also, stronger bones. Also, longer life, easier laughter, lighter step, fewer heart attacks, less erectile dysfunction, road rage, Republicanism. And so on.

Let those of us who've been investigating the spiritual path for many years not roll our eyes too far out of their sockets at Harvard's shocking, lopsided "discovery." Let us instead applaud such research, for perhaps it will lead to wider cultural acceptance of meditation as an invaluable daily practice across easily panicked America. You think?


Perhaps it will lead to more acceptance of meditation in homes, hospitals, corporations and even schools, which could lead to more kids learning invaluable self-awareness skills, which could translate into a more profound understanding that meditation isn't really about stress reduction, healthy bones or not dying from eating too much cheese. That's all just a bonus. Sorry, Harvard.

It's about consciousness, of course. About going inward, to a place where the mind doesn't churn and wail and tell you a bunch of BS lies about what you're supposed to believe, or how life is supposed to be. But perhaps more than anything else, it's about exploring and cultivating a quiet reverence for the true Self, independent of all your ego's mad graspings -- no job, income, parent, media, school or distant, judgmental God required. Now that's worth studying.

Here's a fun factoid. Did you know "stress" is a recent invention? That the modern definition we know and love didn't exist in any relatable form before the 1930s? That's right: we made it up. Leave it to modern man to invent for himself a condition commensurate with piling on more useless information, technology, guilt, performance anxiety, fear.

"I'm so stressed," is not merely the most oft-repeated phrase of the 20th century. It's a mantra. A religion. A drug. If you don't say it every day, if you don't believe it every day and then complain about it to anyone who will listen, something is wrong with you. Also, you're clearly not working hard enough.

Can we say similar things about boredom? Because it, too, is a recent invention, a First-World "problem" par excellence, a bastard child of the info age and spoiled entitlement, of having all our basic needs to grossly over-met that we sit around with every possible comfort, gadget, toy and stimuli, complaining of apathy. The best way to insult the gods? Tell them how bored you are.

Which leads to a curious question: If stress didn't exist before 1930, if boredom is a modern invention, what the hell were the ancients going, meditating all the time? What was the point?

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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate, and the creator of the Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor in San Francisco. Join him on Facebook, or email him.