It’s well known that meditation is a gradual process that works best when we do it on a regular basis. But, as many of you know, getting yourself to sit down and meditate everyday is not always so easy. There are many obstacles that can get in the way. This blog is all about one of the most stubborn: Laziness.
Now before you move on to the next article thinking: I don’t need some sort of lecture about how lazy I am…don’t worry, I assure you that the author of this blog is in no position to lecture anyone about being lazy. What I’d like to offer instead is encouragement—lots of encouragement—because in my experience that is the ONLY way to work with laziness. As one prominent meditation teacher said: “laziness is nothing more than a subtle form of discouragement.”
It helps to know some facts about laziness, so we are better able to work with it skillfully. Although there are many ways to define laziness, perhaps the most useful in this context comes from the Buddhist teachings on meditation, which speak about three different kinds of laziness:
The first kind is plain old lethargy. It means feeling sleepy and heavy in our body and mind. For me this is most evident in the morning when the alarm goes off and I’m supposed to get up and meditate. Somehow I just can’t seem to get out of bed because it just feels so nice and cozy. Leaving aside those times when we genuinely need to rest, the teachings say that lethargy often comes from a lack of appreciation of our own potential. Even though every one of us has the power to change and transform our minds through meditation, lethargy can be a sign that we’re not confident about our own qualities and strength. This is why the antidote for this is definitely not to get angry with ourselves and say, “You pathetic lazy bum! Get out of bed!” (believe me I’ve tried this…) but rather to encourage and inspire ourselves. This could mean listening to or reading a teaching on meditation, or remembering how inspired you sometimes feel after sitting, or to just reflect on all the extraordinary benefits of meditation—all of which are within your reach.
The second kind of laziness is to be constantly busy and distracted—often with meaningless things. This type of laziness is extremely common in the modern world where we tend to keep ourselves completely preoccupied with thoughts and activities, leaving little time to look into the deeper aspects of ourselves. You could say that this kind of laziness is a subtle way of neglecting to take care of ourselves. For me, a good example of this is when, instead of doing 10 or 20 minutes of meditation, I end up spending an hour reading the news online. Again, the way to deal with this is not by being hard on ourselves, but instead to remember how wonderful it is to practice meditation, to recall how much it makes us feel more spacious, relaxed and at ease, or how much it can help us face the stressful aspects of our lives. It can also help to reflect a bit on how empty and undernourished we feel when we spend too much time being distracted from ourselves.
The third type of laziness is perhaps the most interesting and challenging of all: discouragement or low-self esteem. We feel that we just can’t do it or that we don’t have the ability. Maybe we think that even though everyone else in the world can transform their mind, for some reason we just can’t. There are many ways to deal with low-self esteem: the practice of loving kindness, inspiring ourselves by going out in nature, listening to a beautiful teaching or uplifting piece of music, talking to a close friend and so on. For me what often helps most of all is to find a way to distract myself from my thoughts of low-self esteem. Sometimes I just need to remember a time when I was inspired or full of joy, and so remember that my state of mind is not something solid or permanent. Recently I’ve been reminding myself that I ALWAYS feel better after I’ve done some meditation. That can be just enough to get me to sit down and start the practice.
Perhaps the most revealing of all insights from the meditation teachings about dealing with laziness, is the one word that sums up all the antidotes to it: virya, which is a Sanskrit word that means to take joy in whatever is positive, beneficial or wholesome. Often translated as diligence, virya doesn’t mean working hard or adopting a strict, harsh or heavy-handed attitude with ourselves. It means cultivating joy, enthusiasm and inspiration about what is really good for us. This is not only the key to overcoming laziness and beginning our meditation practice, the teachings compare it to a strong wind that lifts us up and carries our meditation practice from the beginning to end.