lazybykobrasoft1Image 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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15 Comments to “Laziness (a.k.a. Wisdom?)”

  1. Hurrah for laziness. I was labeled lazy when I was a kid because I liked to read and study. In college I finally dealt with it by developing the mantra, “Living is a lazy sport. If you’re working too hard, you’re doing it wrong.” It helped a lot.

    Once later in life my mother looked at me and said, “You’re perfect just the way you are.” I didn’t believe that any more than the laziness label, but it was more fun to hear. 😉

  2. Evan says:

    Hi Jean,
    I really like that mantra. Thanks for your comment.

  3. John Allison says:

    Great post. I especially liked the tip on learning to zero in on when you’ve had enough.

    As the Grand Master of science fiction once wrote:
    “It’s amazing how much mature wisdom resembles being too tired.” ~ Robert Heinlein

  4. sarah luczaj says:

    “trust you to find the easy way!” what a great compliment!

    My favourite Taoist quote seems to fit here – “learn from water and study yourself”

  5. John,
    What a great quote. It reminds me of my husband’s, “If I were younger I would work up a towering rage over this. But I no longer have the energy.” He always says it with a smile.

  6. Evan says:

    Hi John,

    I’m glad you liked it. Good to have you back in the blogospher. I’ve missed you. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Evan says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I love that Taoist quote. I also think of the remark as a compliment (now).

    Thanks for your comment.

  8. Evan says:

    Hi Jean,

    It sounds like you are married to a wise man. I trust this means an easy life for both – as he seems to be married to a wise woman.

    Thanks for your comment.

  9. Thanks for this post. Making a virtue out of suffering also seems to me to be, well, a big source of suffering for people. I’ve now worked with a number of people who feel like they aren’t allowed to “get too happy,” or they’d be spoiled, selfish, or whatever else they got called as children, and they feel like if they stopped worrying or suffering the world would fall apart. Those are the people I most want to help.

  10. Evan says:

    Hi Chris,
    I’d be interested in hearing how you work with these people, if you’d like to say in general terms. I wish you every success in doing so. I do think we tend to make a virtue out of suffering – and I wish we didn’t. My guess is that usually we can change in small steps each of which can be pleasant and a gain. Is this similar to how you work?

    Thanks for your comment.

  11. Hi Evan — for me, one of the most important realizations has been that what we call happiness is just a set of physical sensations, like maybe an increased heart rate, a feeling of warmth in the chest, and so on. Like anger, sadness, and other emotions, it can feel intense and scary. What I often do is just sit there with someone as they give themselves permission to experience these feelings, and help them to feel safe as they do. When they discover that just being with what they’re experiencing hasn’t killed them, that gives them a sense of greater freedom and possibility.

  12. Evan says:

    Hi Chris,
    I think this is a remarkably powerful process.

  13. […] Laziness (aka Wisdom?) – 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. … […]

  14. Nat says:

    As you suggest, “laziness” is simply sanity. It is nothing more than an honestly-acknowledged unwillingness to do things we don’t want to do. Granted, there are always occasions when we have to disregard laziness in order to do some pressing thing – but we should always do so honestly rather than pretend it is some sort of desirable situation.

    In any sane world, work would be minimized and freedom maximized. It is only a thoroughly indoctrinated and deeply misguided society which would promote work as something desirable or good in and of itself.

  15. Evan says:

    Hi Nat,

    Welcome. I really like what you say about not pretending. And I couldn’t agree more strongly that any sane world would minimize work and maximise freedom. Thanks for your comment.

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