- Inactivity resulting from a dislike of work
- Relaxed and easy activity
- Apathy and inactivity in the practice of virtue (personified as one of the deadly sins)
Laziness is a term you have often heard in your life isn’t it? My mother always used to say to me “Pick your toys up, put your clothes away, tidy your room, don’t be so lazy.” I used to say a similar thing to my ex-wife when she would leave everything at her back. Cups and spoons hidden by the side of the sofa, plates, pots and pans stacked ten deep at the sink, clothes strewn everywhere.
She, like many people, didn’t think she was being lazy, she just thought she had more important things to do than keep things tidy (like watching tv). I have known many people like that. You wouldn’t say they are generally lazy or slothful (disinclined to work or exertion). My ex worked as hard as anyone I’d ever met, whilst at work, and enjoyed going out and doing exercise; so what was it that made her almost apathetic at times? What is it that makes so many of us so lazy? Let’s explore this together and try to understand it more.
We all enjoy lazy days, don’t we? Especially when the weather is fine, and we can sit in the park or on the beach or in our garden. Just sitting, doing nothing, maybe reading a book, sipping a long cool drink. Ahhh! What better way to spend an afternoon? I certainly wouldn’t call it laziness. I would call it an important relaxation exercise.
But we haven’t always been able to sit around relaxing, have we? Before the dawn of industrialisation, the world was a very different place, primarily because there wasn’t much time for sitting around. As with today, money didn’t grow on trees, and people had to work long hours to get enough money to pay for even the most basic of goods.
Remember there were no supermarkets, no local hardware stores, no cars to make getting between places easier, no direct electricity and gas to the home, and basic plumbing and a toilet if you were lucky!
Life was a lot harder then, and I can hear you all shouting “Good! We don’t want to go back to that time, we much prefer it now.” And so do I! I enjoy the comforts we have now.
I am sitting writing this in a beautiful library, on a laptop computer, with a table lamp on a comfortable chair, looking out of a double glazed window onto the wild elements of a scottish island. I am surrounded by hundreds of books, and the night storage heater at my back is keeping me warm. Even the kings and queens of yesteryear didn’t have it this good. Remember that.
How is it possible that most of us actually live better than kings and queens? The answer is progress.
Man developing new skills and new technologies, and for the first time, using his mind more in the process.
Back when we were simple peasants (1. One of a (chiefly European) class of agricultural labourers 2. A crude uncouth ill-bred person lacking culture or refinement), we used our muscles, not our minds. But thanks to intensive modern farming techniques, which use machinery instead of muscle, many more of us have been able to move away from agriculture to develop our minds, and learn new trades. Hence the modern reality in most developed countries, that the work is moving almost steadily from the hand to the mind. This can only be a good thing, don’t you think?
We can now specialise in such diverse areas as engineering, quantum physics, manufacturing, marketing, law, hospitality, cleaning and waste disposal.
There are a myriad of new job opportunities, each one better than the jobs we had to do a hundred years ago or so. Opportunities abound to learn new things, to develop your mind, to improve. There is no way that this would have been possible for everyone even as recently ago as the second world war.
Now that we don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from, and are not all out tending our crops, the possibilities are endless. Except we don’t seem to grasp this idea so well do we? Thanks to many people dedicating themselves to developing new technologies to make our lives simpler (actually, just less physical work), we have been getting lazier and lazier (even if you think you are working harder and harder). Before you all start shouting that I don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain.
Do you remember the days before we had cash machines? I wonder how people got their money out of the bank? What about before you could pay for things over the internet with a little plastic card with a number, or even over the phone?
Actually how about before there were phones, let alone little personal phones you could use all over the world, where people dial your number and the system finds you on a beach five thousand miles away! What about before you could heat a meal that had been prepared in a factory many miles away on a rotating turntable in an oven that never gets hot, yet your food does?
Actually, how about before there were electric and gas cookers, because there was no gas or electricity?
The quicker and easier it is, the lazier we become
With each new invention, our minds become a little more attached to the comfort it brings. If you think about it, most of them are pretty good inventions: it is our complete reliance on them now that will cause us problems in the future.
Take for example, the television, which has only been in existence for little over 60 years (that means we have been several million years without it). Now we have digital satellite and cable, hundreds of channels. Whether you are poor, or rich, it is the modern accessory we cannot seem to do without. Not having a television is comparable to not having electricity in some people’s opinion! What, No tv, how do you cope? And my answer would be, “just fine thank you.”
A friend recently reminded me of the example of the tv remote control. You know how it is, when someone wants to change the channel and the following request is issued:
“Has anyone seen the remote?”
“Argh, that’s really annoying.”
The idea of getting up to change the channel is as alien as not having the tv in the first place! We are so lazy we can’t get up less than five feet away. We sit surrounded by controllers for the satellite, dvd and video. I can hear some of you shouting, “that’s progress, not laziness!”
But I need it, I am so busy, I couldn’t do without it.
Stop for a moment now and think of all the things you couldn’t be without. What makes your life “simpler?” These days there are so many new ideas to stop us having to physically do anything, it’s starting to get ridiculous. The last straw for me was when I saw an exercise table that moved your legs and arms for you! “Get really fit. No effort required whatsoever!”
So now we have gadgets galore to help us, what do we do with all this extra time? What do we dedicate ourselves to now we no longer have to worry (in the west at least) about the basic stuff? As I have stated in other topics, work has moved from the hand to the mind, and that is what I want to talk to you about here.
We have freed ourselves physically, and are now in a great position to develop our minds. What a great opportunity for self-development this is. We can learn more about ourselves, we can study life more, we can study anything, but what do we do? Well, to be fair, some people do use this time constructively, but most of us are so tired from the long hours we are expected to put in at work, that the only thing we can be bothered doing is to “veg out” in front of the tv, with a ready meal and a glass of wine.
It seems to me – maybe cynically – that the companies who are manufacturing items to make our lives easier, are doing it to earn money from the companies we work for, so we can stay at work longer, without having to worry about what we are going to have for dinner, and what we will do in the evening.
Everything is laid on for us. In fact, everything is sooo convenient now we don’t have to go home from work at all.
But seriously, we do spend most of our lives at work. I have been over this several times before, but if we get up a 6.30 am and get back around 6.30 pm (some people work much longer), that is half of our day dedicated to work. That doesn’t leave much time for anything else. It’s just rush, rush, rush.
A well deserved rest
So if our lives are very busy, and we are over-stretched, maybe this so called laziness I am talking about here is no more than a well deserved rest period. Maybe my wife was right; maybe it is more important to do things you want to do instead of doing things you have to do, or that other people say you “should” do. What do you think? Explore your own day.
How long do you spend not just at work, but getting ready for work and getting home in the evening. Think what you like doing in the evening to relax. Would you consider yourself a lazy person?
The body has natural rhythms known as circadian rhythms (A daily cycle of activity observed in many living organisms) which operate in a 24 hour cycle. During that time we have periods where we are energetic, periods where we are sleepy, periods when we are hungry. As you probably are aware, modern life has altered these rhythms beyond recognition. We get up at strange times, go to bed at strange times, take artificial stimulants to stay awake, eat at strange times – everything we do is strange!
If you have ever been awake just before dawn you will notice the silence followed by the sound of birds chirping and singing, which they continue to do just up until sunset, at which time they promptly retire for the evening and stop singing. They have had a full day of work and now they will follow it by a full nights sleep to recuperate for the next days activities. But you see, they have to get up and go to sleep in tune with the sun, because (a) they haven’t invented electric light and (b) they haven’t got eye shades (or curtains) so they can have a lie in.
The first thing I have noticed since coming up to this little scottish island retreat, is the silence. There are only about fifteen volunteers here, plus the people who come up in the summer for courses. There are no lights on the island, and the quiet time is 10.00 pm. As it is a place dedicated to meditation, there is no tv, radio or music blaring out (a welcome change from the city).
When I first arrived, I was sleeping until my alarm went off around 8.30 am, and I was going to sleep about midnight – that was my rhythm. But the more my body detoxed from city life, and the more my brain became calmer (due to not being over stimulated by shopping, tv and music), and was allowed to just be, I noticed my natural rhythm starting to change.
They start meditation here at 6.00 am, which in the beginning would have been an arduous task, but now, two and a half months on, I am waking up with the birds at 4.30 or 5.00 am and getting on with my work straight away without feeling exhausted all day (and without the need for strong stimulants to start the day off).
It seems like a lifetime ago when I used to have to get up at 4.30 or 5.00 am to drive like mad to get to the airport to catch a flight – three strong coffees would have been the minimum requirement! Now, I have no need for stimulants because I have detoxed from them. I still enjoy coffee but as a rare treat, but not as a necessity for living; so at least I don’t get those awful caffeine withdrawal headaches that so many of my colleagues used to suffer from in the business world.
It now seems as though I finally know, and feel, what it is to live in natures rhythm, although you may argue that this kind of existence is not possible in ninety five percent of towns and cities.
The 24 hour lifestyle has replaced natures rhythm. We get up because the alarm goes off. We go to bed late because we were watching tv, because we got in late from work and we hadn’t eaten and we wanted to spend time with our partner and we wanted to relax (oh, and there is 24 hour electricity). After work we go out for a drink to relax, which upsets our natural sleeping patterns, and we eat heavy food late at night.
We have jobs that start after we should go to bed. We take drugs that keep our body awake all night so we can have “fun.”
We are turning into 24 hour machines, and we are not designed for that. Somewhere, sometime the system will break down, and it is. It really is no wonder we are so stressed. We are so out of tune with our natural rhythm, that our body and mind doesn’t know if it’s coming or going!
Here’s an idea. Buy a tent!
If you’re like me, and are now shouting, “Help! I want to get off,” one place you can really experience this rhythm right now, is to go camping. You may think I’m joking, but I’m not. Everyone has been camping in the wilderness at sometime in their life, even you probably. Can you remember it? Do you remember when it gets dark, and there is no artificial light (save for a small torch). What time do you go to bed? (I am assuming you aren’t like some campers who have a generator and sit up drinking beer and wine till late) Normally when it gets dark, right? And what time do you get up? Normally when it gets light, right?
I have been camping with people who have been so bored because there was no alcohol, no tv, and they had to go to bed early. They even got bored with waking up early because there was no tv, no radio, and no newspaper, and they couldn’t think what to do with themselves. They couldn’t just sit and enjoy nature. They had to be doing something to keep their hands and minds occupied.
But we are all like that, aren’t we? We can’t just sit. We don’t want to be alone with our own thoughts too long, so we invent things to occupy them. If humans had their way they would stay up 24 hours a day, every day. We force ourselves to stay up late at night, when our body clock is saying,
“Hey, time for sleep!”
“Time for sleep?” says you, “I’m just going out nightclubbing, you try to stop me! And if you pull any of that I’m tired stuff, I only have to pop a chemical, and I’ll be wide awake again.”
Our whole life has become so unnatural. We are so desperate to be something other than what we are, a member of the animal kingdom.
So do yourself a favour, if you’re not ready to see what natures rhythm is really like, and go camping. I promise you’ll enjoy it, as long as you just let it happen and experience it without judgement. Try to notice your thoughts while you lie in the tent or look up at the stars, and think about what you are missing. Think about sitting on the couch and eating a takeaway and leaving the washing up, and watching program after program on the tv. Then come back to the present moment and be aware of what you have.
Listen to the wildlife and feel yourself naturally reconnecting with nature and its rhythm. It may seem boring to you, and it may seem like an impossible way to live in a city, but then maybe we all have to look at our lives, the way we live, the choices we make, and see how out of balance we have all become. The more I follow nature, the more energy I have, the earlier I wake, and the more I get done during the day. Believe me, by the time I get to bed at 10.00 pm, I am ready for sleep. I figure if the rest of nature’s doing it, why aren’t we? We are not a nocturnal animal.
All the great philosophers and religions throughout the world have advocated getting up at dawn (approx 5.00 am) and sleeping at nightfall (approx 10.00 pm in the summer); that gives us 17 whole hours of day! That’s a whole lot of time in which to live. Surely we can squeeze everything we need to do into that?
If we can’t, maybe we should look at the activities we are trying to squeeze in, and if they aren’t helpful or beneficial to the system, then maybe we should just let them go. Try it. Oh, and enjoy your camping.
by Alan Macmillan Orr
“The Natural Mind- waking up”