Image by Kobrasoft
Long, long ago in a universe far, far away . . . Evan was young. He and his family were going for a bushwalk (for you non-Australians this means a hike or ramble). We came to a difficult descent on the path. I found an easier way to negotiate the descent. In response to this I remember my mother saying, “Trust you to find the easy way”. I still remember the tone of resentment in her voice. At the time I found this puzzling.
Meanwhile, back in this part of the blogosphere . . . I still find this puzzling. I really don’t see the point in putting more effort into something than you want to. (Unless it’s just for fun – and then we want to).
Is this just laziness? I have two answers to this: “No, it’s sanity”; and, “Yes, laziness is a good thing”.
Why is laziness regarded as disreputable and vaguely immoral?
It seems that morality is equated with effort. It seems like an effort to be compassionate. It seems hard to go against the crowd. It seems easier to tell a white lie than to find a way to tell the truth.
Not all spiritual traditions support this view. My two favourites are Taoism and Christianity. Lao Tzu the founder of Taoism promoted going with what is natural and taking the easy path. Christianity does advocate going against the crowd – and Jesus also said, “My yoke [ie. discipline] is easy and my burden is light”.
Currently it seems that secular morality promotes laziness but also punishing yourself – even in leisure, “Work hard, play hard”! – and spend money whatever you do. It is our duty to indulge ourselves, and also to punish ourselves for our indulgence: eat indulgently, then diet; play hard then indulge in drugs (cigarettes, alcohol . . . ).
This is a pretty demanding kind of laziness. If laziness leads to self-punishment then it is not surprising that it is unpopular.
I think a way of sorting out this mess is to distinguish two meanings for laziness – easy and excessive self-indulgence. Which leads to the question:
How much self-indulgence is excessive? Answer: when you feel bad afterwards.
This doesn’t help us know why we indulge to excess though. My guess is: that it is when we indulge for reasons other than pleasure. We have a way of knowing when we have had enough of something. Keeping on, I think, is driven by other concerns than pleasure. The pleasure is functioning as a way to symbolise something or to meet another need. Doing sex as a substitute for intimacy, eating as a substitute for other pleasures, buying stuff to fit in with others . . . the list of substituting needs is pretty endless.
Ease is wisdom; excessive indulgence is when we are trying to fulfill needs by substituting other pleasures. Laziness is either wisdom or self-punishment. I advocate ease and wisdom.
How to sort out the difference? Here are some ideas I have:
- Choose an area where you indulge to excess (food, exercise, reading. If you wonder where I indulge to excess, look no further).
- When you are feeling bad from the excess look back and see if you can spot the point where you had had enough. (Usually there is an intuition that goes off which we ignore – having another mouthful, doing another kilometre, reading another chapter.)
If you do have an intuition.
What happened after the intuition? What was the push to keep going? Is it possible to meet this desire in another way?
If you don’t have an intuition.
I think the only way is to set a place to stop. Then find out how satisfied you feel – and slowly develop a sense of how much of this pleasure is desirable for you. If you don’t feel there is any place then it may be that the pleasure is substituting for something else or the connection is very deep.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you.
What do you make of laziness – ease and excessive self indulgence? If you have stopped excessive indulgence or self-punishment I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.
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