Three Kinds of Laziness

Three Kinds of Laziness January 4, 2021

Laziness is a thing that we don’t talk about enough, I think. It’s often something that stops us from being consistent in our practice, but also in anything else that we’re doing for our personal development or self-care. It’s very common, and I think everybody struggles with it some. It’s a powerful force and it gets in our way and regularly stops us from working toward our goals.

In Buddhism we talk about three different kinds of laziness. We might not normally think of these things as laziness, but they all come from the same place.

They are procrastination, feeling unworthy, and busyness. Busyness is my favorite. They keep us stuck and I think that just identifying them and being aware of them in itself can help us manage them. If you can give it a name, then you can kind of take some of its power away.

Procrastination is what we normally associate with laziness. It’s, “I want to avoid inconvenience. I’ll do it later. I want to stay in bed. I don’t want to go to meditation, I want to stay home.” We can come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid doing anything. We can think, “I’ll do it next time.” Or, especially, a lot of people have, “I need to come up with the perfect time and situation in order to meditate.” Or in order to do anything, things have to be just lined up perfectly and if they’re not, then I’m not going to do it, and that means you’re probably not going to do it.

Also things like, “I would meditate now, but I just don’t feel like it.” It’s all rooted in being comfortable. I’m comfortable doing this, I’m not comfortable doing this new thing, or I’m comfortable just sitting around. I’m comfortable sitting on the couch watching TV instead of meditating. This not only stops us from achieving our goals, but it can also really limit our experience of the world.

I went to college. I went to KU, so I lived in Lawrence, Kansas for five or six years, and I didn’t go to the Kansas Zen Center. I made excuses to not go there because I went there and it was a house. It was a house and there wasn’t a very clear sign that I could see, so I was nervous. I didn’t have a friend to go with, so I just made an excuse. I was like, “I’m not going to go in there, it’s weird.”

They have a clear sign now, but back in 2003 they didn’t have a clear sign, so it’s just going up to a house. And this is so stupid, but we make really stupid excuses like that. Like, “That’s a house, I don’t want to go there.” So, that’s an example of procrastination. It’s just making excuses, and just thinking, “I’ll do it later.” The thing about I’ll do it later,” is it could really easily turn into, “I’ll never do it.” I could have started this whole meditation and Buddhism thing earlier if I had just not made an excuse.

The second kind of laziness is called feeling unworthy, and that’s sort of, “I can’t win so I’m not going to try.”

When people find out that I do this they sometimes say things like, “I wish I could meditate, but I’m not stable enough.” Or, “My mind is a crazy person.” Or, “I can’t settle down.” Or, “My mind’s too scattered, I’m too easily distracted.” People say all kinds of things.

What they mean to say is, “I’m not like other people, I can’t do it like other people have.” We’re all easily distracted, so I find that really strange and I try to tell them. Of course they don’t believe it, because they think, “I’m not good enough. I can’t focus to meditate.” This is more common than you think. A lot of people think meditation is really cool. They also think that they can’t do it.

That is the second kind of laziness. Feeling unworthy. And it applies to other things, too. It applies in all sorts of ways, rather than just for meditation. It’s also not applying for a promotion because you think you won’t get it. Or not asking out a person because you think you’re not good enough for them. Or not doing whatever creative thing you’re into because you think you’re not good at painting, or poetry, or whatever you might do. That’s a case of feeling unworthy. It’s all rooted in hopelessness and ignoring our potential. Whatever the thing is, we should just try to do it and see what happens.

The last kind of laziness is the laziness of busyness, which at first seems counter-intuitive. It is just, “I’m too busy.” I think there’s two aspects with this, and one of them is an excuse. That is when people say, “I have a really active life, I don’t have time to sit down and meditate.” That is almost never true. Someone may not have the time to go to an event to meditate, but everyone has time to meditate. Unless you literally wake up in the morning and you’re completely swamped with activity all the way until you go to bed, you can take ten minutes. The truth is, when you’re using it as an excuse, it’s because you don’t want to do it.

I understand that. There’s things I don’t want to do, too. So, that’s the aspect of it that’s a lie, but there’s another aspect of it that is true, at least kind of true. That is, in the modern world we have really learned how to fill our time. Sometimes we fill our time in unexpected ways.

One day, I figured out a way to check my phone and see how much screen time I have on there, and it is absurd. It is absurd how much screen time I have on my phone. I think that most of us are that way. It was a big surprise to me, and I think it’s a big surprise to everyone. I think phones are the third kind of laziness for the modern world, because it’s so easy to just be on it at work.

Recently I had to have a meeting with someone and they were late to the meeting. I had to wait around and in the old days, ten years ago, I would have just been sitting around. But of course that’s not what I’m doing now, I’m sitting there scrolling.

And that’s what we’re all doing all the time, it seems like. So that’s really the lazy busyness of our era, is, “I could sit and meditate for ten minutes and instead I’m scrolling on my phone for ten minutes.” Accomplishing nothing, not really enjoying it, not really getting anything out of it. It’s very silly, but that’s kind of my weakness. I’m better at it than I used to be, and I’m trying to get better at it because it will just take your time unlike anything else. It’ll steal your attention and steal your time.

There’s all sorts of other things we could fill our time with, and forget to leave time for self-care and self-development. We could be spending too much time watching TV. I don’t want to say too much, but spending a lot of time watching TV, or napping, or whatever. We could be doing all sorts of things to take us away from our development. We could probably all manage our time better in all sorts of ways.

We have to make time for quiet and just be fully present.

So that’s the teaching of the three kinds of laziness. We may not think of these kinds of things as connected but they are.

Daniel is an American Buddhist Teacher based in Kansas City. In his day job he’s a union labor activist. Daniel was given teaching authority by the International Chan Buddhism Institute and gives talks at the One Mind Zen Hermitage.

Browse Our Archives