Sometimes we need to talk about laziness.
I think laziness is probably a universal human trait. It gets in the way of our confidence and strength.
Talking about our struggles and reflecting on them is how we overcome them. Laziness is a thing that gets in our way. It stops us from reaching our potential and achieving our goals. Sometimes laziness can almost be like poison and really ruin things for us. Most of the time it’s not that serious.
In Buddhism laziness is sometimes described as having three aspects. In his book “The Bodhisattva Handbook” the Dalai Lama describes the three aspects of laziness in this way:
1) Having no wish to do good
2) Being distracted by negative activities
3) Underestimating oneself and doubting one’s ability
I think that’s a pretty good list of things that get in our way. We may not think of all of these as laziness, but it can be helpful to think of them as similar. We often talk about how these can get in the way of our spiritual practice, but really they can get in the way of anything we’re trying to do.
Having no wish to do good.
This is when we know what the right thing is and we just don’t want to do it. We can think of anything. Eating vegetables, flossing, paying attention to our kids when we don’t really want to, paying attention to our work when we don’t really want to.
And we can think of spiritual things too, obviously. Doing our meditation practice. Being generous, showing compassion when it’s not easy. And many of the other things we do. This is the laziness of “I don’t feel like it.” It’s probably the main thing we think of when we think of laziness.
Being distracted by negative activities
I’ve seen this called “The laziness of busyness” and I don’t know if that works as well to explain as this version. That’s when I’m not doing the things I know I need to do because I’m distracted. I’m not eating vegetables because I’m too busy eating too many chips. I’m not paying attention to my kids because I’m arguing with strangers on Facebook. I’m lying to make myself look good instead of being genuine and telling the truth. I’m gossiping instead of focusing on my job at work. There are probably many of examples of this.
That’s not to say we can’t spend time eating chips or scrolling through Facebook, but just that we should be mindful of what we’re doing and what it’s taking us away from. “Negative activities” might seem like a heavy term to handle but the point is that we know when we’re indulging in things that aren’t great for us and others. If we’re honest about ourselves, we know. And if we’re keeping ourselves too busy with things that aren’t what we need to do, that can have a big impact on our quality of life.
Underestimating oneself and doubting one’s ability
This is the idea of “Can’t win, don’t try.” This is basically an excuse. It’s thinking that you can’t help everyone, so you may as well not try to help anyone. It’s thinking that your kids are going to be messed up no matter what you do, so you may as well not try your best to parent. It’s overall this thought that we all have sometimes. I’m not good enough. Sure, other people can be great parents, but not me. Sure, other people can be good at their jobs, but not me. Sure, other people can attain enlightenment, but not me. Sometimes we really believe these negative things about ourselves. Other times they’re an excuse to not take a certain action. I could try harder, but it probably won’t work anyway.
So, we’ve identified problems. What can we do?
For the first two kinds of laziness, a thing that helps is learning how to plan and prioritize. Sit down and write out a list of goals. Then remind yourself, in whatever way you need to, not to let things get in the way. Now, this is harder than it sounds. We are going to have to remind ourselves again and again and again. But the truth is just naming this problem takes away a lot of it’s power.
The third kind of laziness can be a little more tricky. We have to learn how to have compassion and kindness and grace for ourselves. For some people it’s a lot easier to show kindness to others than to ourselves. One thing we can also do is learn how to be mindful of our own intentions, to know when we’re making excuses. If I think I can’t be pitcher for the Royals that’s true. But if I think I can’t handle getting a little healthier so I can play tag with my kids without getting winded, I’m wrong. I can get healthier and get that energy. I just don’t want to so I make the excuse that I can’t. Think of your own examples, I bet you have plenty.
Buddhism teachings that we all have the seed of awakening within us, that every human being has goodness at our core. This can be a tough thing to grasp because we know ourselves. I know everything bad I’ve ever done. How can I be good at the core of my being? But I am. And you are too. This can be such a hard thing for us to wrestle with. But this is true for everyone. You get there by realizing you’re already there.
And, most importantly, no one gets left out.