Someone recently asked the question, “Why do spiritual people seem so lazy?”
People who are spiritually inclined are often accused of laziness. They seem to have little ambition in regard to material pursuits. They may be disinterested or unskilled in making money, and might often be struggling financially. They may seem to have little interest in working a regular job that requires monotonous activity. They may seem to spend a lot of time in leisure or pursuing activities that don’t earn them a living. But is this true laziness or something else?
If we look at some of the well-known spiritual teachers of our time we might notice that most, if not all of them, don’t work a typical job. They write the occasional book and spend much of their time giving talks. And it’s very fortunate that they’re able to make a living doing this. In fact, some of their books become bestsellers, so you can imagine they do very well financially. Because of that, they are rarely accused of laziness. But if you took the money out of the equation, what you are left with is someone who talks a lot and writes every now and then. And it’s only because they’re being paid for it that the materialistic society regards them as productive and successful.
But what about the rest of us? What about those who are persistently pursuing a spiritual life, but have little or no material ambitions? What about those of us who find it difficult to hold interest in a regular job? What about those of us who are simply disinterested in making money? What about those of us who are just scraping by or who still live with our parents well into our twenties, thirties and so on? Are we just being lazy, or is there something more to it that isn’t understood by the greater society?
To be lazy means to be lethargic, to avoid activity, or to engage in activity with minimal exertion. And in someways all of us can be lazy at times. Sometimes laziness is needed. But activity is also needed. Ultimately we need to have some balance.
But just because someone isn’t making a steady living doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lazy. I know of many people who struggle to hold a regular job, and therefore struggle to make a living. But they’re often engaged in activity. They may spend much of their time reading, writing, painting or playing music. In fact, I’ve observed that some people dedicate so much time and attention to self-education or perfecting an art, that they simply have no time for a regular job. However, few of them manage to make enough money from it. And that’s generally what society bases it’s accusation upon. Are you making any money? Because if you’re not, it doesn’t matter what you’re engaged in. If you aren’t earning money for it, then it isn’t considered valuable and people will often accuse you of being lazy.
We can also notice that some people work too much in a job that feels meaningless. But rather than trying to create meaning in their lives, they go home only to dull their senses with television or alcohol. Or maybe they spend their free time shopping or exercising, playing games or engaged in trivial conversation. Externally they may be very active, but spiritually they may be very lazy. They give no time to the inner work, to personal growth and introspection. They may even be inclined toward some creative pursuit, but have been dissuaded by the social pressure to refocus one’s energy primarily on earning income.
In other cases, what may occur is that a person will try to find a balance between their creative expression or spiritual practice and earning a living wage. The ultimate goal is to earn a living doing that thing you’re already engaged in; the thing you are so passionately dedicated to. If you’re going to spend all of your time writing or painting or whatever it may be, you might as well be paid for it. Otherwise you’ll have to find a job doing something that doesn’t interest you, and that will take time and energy away from doing the thing that you’re truly passionate about.
So we might try to find a way to turn our passion into a career, but that can often be difficult if we aren’t ambitious about making money. And if we focus too much on making money, we may compromise our work to suit what is fashionable or in demand. When we focus too much on the money aspect the work loses some its creative and passionate qualities. And what may sometimes occur is that we are struggling so much between doing what we love and making money that we become frustrated. We might feel pulled in two seemingly opposite directions. And when we’re being pulled in two directions at once, what happens is that we become immobilized. We become stuck somewhere in the middle. We might end up making no money at all, but also losing our inspiration to create. And then we become truly stagnant. We might feel discouraged and even depressed. And for a time we seem to be completely inactive, feeling restless but without any clear sense of direction. We aren’t working and we aren’t creating. And now we have become truly lazy.
But we should be careful not to be too critical about our laziness. Rather, we should seek to understand it. What is laziness but a lack of energy and motivation? And what is at the root of it? I think that if we really explore it we might discover that our laziness is a symptom of depression. So we then need to understand the depression. What is causing it? What are the thoughts associated with it?
For many of us on the spiritual path, depression is a constant companion. And once again this is closely tied to societal standards and expectations. We are constantly being reminded of the importance of earning a living, while at the same time our creative passions and spiritual interests are devalued. We are taught that the primary goal in life is to make money and to acquire material possessions and comforts. Spirituality often put to the side line or discouraged altogether. And when one’s interest is devalued, the person will often feel devalued.
Because of this we may lack a strong sense of self-worth and confidence. And without confidence we lack passion and motivation. If we’re spiritually inclined, it’s unlikely that we will ever take a strong interest in purely material pursuits. But on the other hand, if we give any value at all to societal standards, we may not give much energy to our passion either. So then we wind up doing nothing, or at the least, doing everything with minimal energy. If we’re feeling depressed, we just don’t have the motivation and energy to do anything.
So then the question becomes how to get out of stagnation, and the only way out of stagnation is to take action, even if the action is small. A step forward is a step forward even if it’s a baby step. It may not necessarily be about finding a way to earn a living through your passion or turning your spiritual practice into a paying career. It may be about simply pursuing your passion for the sake of the passion itself, in spite of whether or not you are able to make money doing it, and in spite of what others think about it. We need to come back to ourselves and see the value in spiritual life and creative expression. And that may even mean embracing the laziness in such a way that it becomes a part of the practice.
Certainly we need to make a living so we can take care of our basic physical needs. But we can’t be working all the time. We need rest and recuperation. We need time for silence and solitude. We need time for contemplation and imagination, reflection and introspection. And we need to take time for creative expression. To the outside world these things might be construed as laziness, but they are deeply valuable. One who is truly lazy doesn’t engage even in these things, because they require a kind of energy all their own. It may not necessarily require physical exertion, but rather mental or spiritual energy.
So if one is truly lazy, the way out isn’t necessarily though physical exertion. We may just need to clear our minds. We may just need to spend some time in nature, or pick up a paintbrush, or even sit in stillness and meditate. We may simply need to redirect our thoughts and energy toward whatever it may be that truly inspires us.
Find something that excites you, that brings meaning to life, that energizes you, and give your energy to that. And don’t be concerned what anyone else thinks about it. Don’t be concerned whether it makes you any money. Just do it for the sake of doing it, for the sake of the passion itself, the enjoyment, the fulfillment of it.