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 heard a story the other day that totally transformed my mind and did something inexplicable to my heart. It was a story of the tragic death of a teenage girl killed in a car accident and the lady who found her and held her hand while she died. It was the girl’s mother who retold the story and I don’t think she was aware of how this image of her daughter and her own bravery for retelling this story publicly had such an enormous impact. I was transported there to that moment and experienced the complete surrender of the woman in that moment as she nursed the dying girl. I could (and do now when I retell this) feel the vast stillness of ungrasping love that pervaded. Time stood still and she just witnessed with deep presence and tenderness her last moments. Being able to hold her in that stillness, in that moment, was all that counted and the greatest gift that could be offered. Through that story my heart learnt how to be: to simply rest and give my full attention to someone in their greatest time of need. No words are required, there is no need to alter or change but simply be there witnessing and experiencing (to some degree) in stillness that absolutely sacred, completely vulnerable and pivotal moment.
The beauty present in that image is the naked reality of being completely helpless and unable to change the situation through resolving, fixing, trying or striving and the seeing that the only option is to stop, be still and allow oneself to be there fully for another in their time of need. Allow yourself to visualise that moment, be that woman, you are there and your mind transforms. The struggle stops, the sense of desperation and helplessness abates and all that is left is that vast, still, timeless moment of gentle strength, stability, knowing and something that goes beyond the word ‘love’.
This morning while I meditated I was able to bring a little of that atmosphere and presence to my practice. I sensed the pain and struggle of hope and fear in my body, the stress and dis-ease that I bring unto myself by constantly striving towards some place in the future where everything will be ok. I touched that pain and allowed myself to feel that vulnerability – that same vulnerability that was so starkly obvious as the young girl slipped away from this life. I stayed with that vulnerability and guided it towards all the tension, fear, struggle and expectation that I was holding in my body (especially around my chest). Compassion for my pain and aversion to life’s hardship softened and eased the tension and the perpetual ‘no’ to what is. Stillness prevailed, albeit only a little, but it was enough. I feel a little kinder to myself and a little softer, a little more at ease and able to face what the day presents.
I would like to thank that lady for the gift that she shared. She suffered for a long time before seeing the gentle ray of light amongst the ferocious, dark clouds of grief. May she find peace in that moment and solace in what she, her daughter and the lady inspired in others. Their story will stay in my heart and remind me of that vast stillness and presence that hides behind the appearances of this world and all its stories.