So we all know about laziness, right? Well, in Buddhism there is something called ‘active laziness’ and, in the west, we are experts at it. It sounds almost contradictory as, in the case of active laziness, you don’t usually sit around slothfully but, rather exert huge amounts of energy in distraction, endlessly avoiding the most important things – being still and healing ourselves.
Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to just sit still without daydreaming, planning or ruminating about times past? It can feel so foreign just sitting, just being without any specific purpose. To some this would seem a complete waste of time. However, from the Buddhist perspective, engaging endlessly in activity is a waste of time. After all, how much of our movement and thoughts actually bring a meaningful outcome? Could we not be more efficient, purposeful and conscious in our actions? Too often we are swept away by half-cocked ideas and a never-ending torrent of discursive thoughts. However, it doesn’t take much effort to see how deluded we can be when we actually listen objectively to what they are telling us.
I think the story of the Mexican Fisherman summarises active laziness really well:
The Fisherman Story
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village.
An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.
“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, “But what do you do with all your time?”
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…I have a full life.”
The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you!
You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.
Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.”
“You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.
“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.
“And after that?”
“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stock and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?”
“After that — and this is the best part — you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, catch a few fish, take a siesta, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends!”
Our whole lives can fly by us through busy-ness and distraction, grasping after the next ‘hit’ of some ‘thing’ that will somehow make us complete. Maybe if we are still and at ease the true clarity required to successfully navigate our way through life can dawn.
I wasn’t quite happy with ‘anna’s pursuit of happiness’, which is kind of ironic. ‘Pursuing happiness’ places happiness out there somewhere in the future, which doesn’t really work, Why? Because happiness can only exist in the present.If felt too much like a donkey chasing a carrot suspended over it’s nose attached via a rod to it’s own back – hopefully you know the image I’m referring too – always just a bit out of reach! Reading it left me with a subtle sense of insatiability and unease, like I was hankering after something that may not be possible. So, I changed it!
Now I’m ‘experimenting with happiness’ and exploring means for transforming my mind in everyday life. I’m not sure if this title will stick but it is a work in progress.
So, I’ve just spent the last week at Chenrezig Institute (www.chenrezig.com.au) on the Sunshine Coast, QLD, amongst the trees receiving teachings and catching up with family. There was, as always, plenty of opportunity to transform my mind. It’s always a personal favourite working with my reaction to doing what others would like to do if it’s something I feel is pretty dull or time-wasting. It is an excellent opportunity for practicing patience and rejoicing in the happiness of others when going shopping for example! Don’t expect it to be easy at first but keep persisting, reminding yourself of their kindness, seeing this as a wonderful opportunity to stretch your patience muscles and rejoice and be happy that they are happy.
You can just simply observe your thoughts without judgement or following them up with another thought nor pushing them away. Just watch, observe and smile. Of course, you also need to give yourself a pat on the back for giving this a go and affirm your intention to practice regularly. For further information you can check out www.whatmeditationreallyis.com for other useful tips on meditation, which is what this latter technique effectively is.
I also have to remind myself that to many, including family members, my lifestyle is a bit odd and dull. I no longer go out partying, I like to be in bed pretty early and I spend a lot of time sitting still or reciting texts in a language I don’t actually speak! I hang around with other weirdo-meditators obsessing about up-coming retreats (on which I use all my annual leave) and I take pleasure in counting the number of times I bring awareness to the moment throughout the day! However, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Today did not start well. I woke up and remembered I was stressed out. I couldn’t find my passport and 2 months of packing, cleaning, making arrangements has started to pay it’s price. The day got worse. I intervened with my neighbours dog mauling a pademelon that died a painful death in the back of my car. Not a good start. However, a part of me was still determined that I wasn’t going to let this get the better of me.
I got to work, head spinning a little. In urgent need of a sit down and hot beverage. The boss arrives at my desk with a heap of left of field tasks requiring attention before I go on leave in two days – boo. Still determined not to have a nervous break down, I take some quiet work to the cafe to ease the pressure off a notch or two. This helps but my glands are sore and my brain hurts a bit.
How does this day get better? Helping others whose needs are greater. There’s always a few and they are usually not far away. Again, there is a magic in discovering that, while obsessing over one’s own difficulty, if you can just redirect your attention and presence to another and be there for them, then things begin to shift. I listened to my friend who described her situation with her husband and their break-up – it is tough for her. Then I was off to do my volunteer bereavement support group co-facilitator role in the afternoon. Hearing people struggle with their loss is very levelling and it’s a privilege to be able to hold a safe space for them to express their pain in all it’s various forms. To help someone see that the thoughts they have chastised themselves for are completely normal and part of the course is so powerful. You can literally see the weight being lifted.
As my mood transformed and I stopped ruminating on all the ‘problems’ I was facing, not only did the environment of my mind begin to transform but so did my circumstances and my outer environment. I stopped to smell the roses (literally, there is a beautiful rose garden in Hobart!) and the colours were vivid, the trees were green, I saw the most fantastic sunset painting the west face of the mist-shrouded mountain in pink while the rest of the sky was grey and moody – a bit like the light of joy piercing the darkness of my mind. I got home and my husband called – some welcome support. Then, the biggest relief of the day – I found my passport! I pledge, from this day forth, to set aside a special place for my important documents – one that I won’t forget!
The interesting pattern that I am beginning to see is how our outer circumstances are shaped by our mental states. This is not the first time that my circumstances have completely shifted after working with my mind and generating a positive mental state or attitude. In fact, I would go (tentatively) as far to say that things work out in my life and a lot of things I want come my way when I can let go of my bad moods, transform my attitude and be more present and responsive to others. It is almost like magic. I’m not sure that I can give you a logical explanation of how this works but challenge you to try it for yourself. I would LOVE to hear your results. I suspect the magic recipe involves a good dash of giving things space, a conscious choice to let go of whatever the thought is that is repeating itself ad nauseam in your mind (asking for help internally can be helpful at this point), something more positive to place your mind on (such as deeply listening to another person) and not expecting results – in fact, if you can forget your mind altogether, all the better!
How wonderful it would be if we could learn to control how our life unfolds by letting go of control and allowing. No more striving. No more struggle. Just peace, harmony and joy. May well all enjoy this. May we all master our own minds.