Saturday, May 24, 2008

On being lazy

I imagine that we were all given several labels as children that were used to define us. We were smart, funny, responsible, rebellious, shy, or the opposites... on and on. One of the labels I received as a child was that I was lazy. I remember always being frustrated, feeling like I eventually would have gotten around to getting something done if folks had given me a bit more time.

It wasn't until I was in my first professional job out of college that I began to challenge this label. All of the sudden I took a look at myself and how hard I was working. It was at that moment that I discarded the label.

And yet, as is the case with most of these things, there was some truth to it.

The interesting thing is, there were very clear signs that obviously showed it was way more complicated than that I was lazy. For example, the one comment that ALWAYS showed up on my report card was that I worked too fast and made mistakes. Upon reflection these many years later, I see that I just had different priorities than the adults in my life wanted to see from me. I found most of the things I was asked to do boring and tedious and wanted them out of the way so I could have time for what I really wanted to do...which was think, question, talk, relax.

In this culture that is so committed to action, I was always looking for time for contemplation. Many people over the years have asked me how I managed to escape the cult of the right-wing christian fundamentalism in which I was raised. The answer to that question (at least as far as I've been able to find it), is at least partly tied to this. So I continue to learn to embrace that "laziness" in me...its been a good friend so far.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Gertrude Stein:

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.

There isn't much that is reviled in this culture more than "doing nothing." But I think its a discipline that we all need to embrace more often - or at least put it into the mix of the balance in our lives. I think we all know that amidst all the consumption and greed, it is the constant frenetic pace of action that distracts us from compassion and the realities that our world is facing. As with so many other things, it is our fear of what we might find in the quiet solitude of contemplation that drives the frenetic pace. But as geomoo put so beautifully in his essay on Attention God

At the magic moments, I see the infinity of human potential. As teacher, I offer the option to let go of the compulsive thoughts, the external demands (largely imagined), and to go for what is really wanted. NO. I mean what is really, really wanted. The heart's yearning.

It is in those moments of quietness that we find our hearts and our wisdom; that we learn, as Nightprowlkitty says, to respond instead of react. And it seems obvious to me that a precursor to "paying attention" is slowing down and taking the time to quietly ponder ourselves and the world around us. Of course "yelling louder" and taking action are also important. But all of that must be grounded in the quiet moments of awareness.

I'll leave you with the words of The Eagles on all this...Learn to be Still.

There are so many contridictions
In all these messages we send
(we keep asking)
How do I get out of here
Where do I fit in?
Though the world is torn and shaken
Even if your heart is breakin’
It’s waiting for you to awaken
And someday you will-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still.

1 comment:

  1. Another essay that resonates NL.

    It is interesting how labels are internalized. Yet, by restating the label a whole different perspective is created. (I think this is the deeper level that was intended by Lakhoff(?) in his work on framing.) Is someone "picky" or do they have "high standards?" This quality of "pickiness" might be a pain when dealing with it in one way, yet wouldn't one want a surgeon who was "picky?"

    I have watched "work" expand in friends' lives, as well as my own. One example: With the advent of car phones, a friend described saving work phone calls for the hour long ride home. I asked if that meant he left work an hour earlier. You know the answer. His work day had expanded an hour and he had eliminated the transition time from work to home - that solitude time in the car.

    I find one of the challenges to being a daydreamer is that I can do a whole lot of living in my head - some things (okay, "lots" of things) never come into being! Oh the other hand, no carbon footprint ;)

    One of the family directives was, "if you're going to do something, do it right." I found this could turn a fun project/activity into "work" and I would get all caught up in "perfectness" which would be very frustrating. Plus there was all this emphasis on cleaning up and putting away. Now I do more, enjoying the doing - accepting that I am a "dabbler," and not everything begun will be finished. (And it isn't always cleaned up right away)

    Julia Cameron's, "The Artist's Way," is very helpful in discovering more about oneself. There are weekly activities, with the purpose being to become aware of how you use your time, energy, and resources and what you really want to be doing.

    One week there was no reading. That was really challenging! However, as a life-long, early reader, with being a "reader" as something that brought me many internal positives and external kudos, I discovered how very much I used reading to avoid a whole lot. It has caused me to become much more critical of what I choose to spend my time reading.

    I was reading about labeling in a slightly different context, yet it shows the power of our self-image. When Asian American women were tested in math, if they considered they were women, they didn't do as well as when they considered they were Asian. Cultural labels (stereotypes): women aren't as good in math as men; Asians are good at math. This was in Scientific American Mind - some parts are available online.

    A pleasure NL.