Happy New Year! I am continuing the series I began last year on the Buddhist paramitas. The six paramitas are actions that we can take to bring ourselves and our world to sanity. The first three paramitas are generosity, discipline, and patience. (Links are to my blog posts and a newsletter on those topics.)
The fourth paramita is often translated as exertion. It doesn’t have anything to do with trying harder. Rather, the idea here is to keep trying, stick with things, show up no matter what. Another translation might be diligence. Diligence still has an element of duty, or perhaps even drudgery, to it. Another translation, suggested Kevin Townley in a recent talk given to Open Heart Project members, might be enthusiasm. Not only are we showing up, but we are showing up with a sense of purpose, eagerness, joy and delight.
What might keep us from exertion? The traditional Buddhist answer is laziness, which occurs in three ways:
The first way is what we generally think of when someone says laziness. Instead of taking action, we are lying on the couch, watching TV, and eating Cheetos.
The second type of laziness is disheartenment. We feel like we are just not up to it. What difference will it make?
The last obstacle to exertion is speedy-busyness. This involves putting our energy into sort-lived, winner lose projects. We are trying to use the hamster wheel to get somewhere.
Good news: to go along with the three types of laziness, classical Buddhism also provides three antidotes.
If you are creating a divot on the couch, ancient sages suggest that you “put on the armor of wakefulness.” If you stay alive to the present moment, you will find energy that spurs you to action. Buddhist scholars might refer you to the “three jewels” of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. You might think of these as your own inner knowing, teachings by other wise folks, and community.
If I’m lounging in bed too long, I have the inner urge to get moving. That recognizes the wisdom in Disney star Dove Cameron’s comment “
“Laziness is my biggest pet peeve of all selecting time. Get up, make a plan, do the work, and love yourself, people!” If I am to be of service in and to my community, I want to take action! Compassionate action is a way of being kind to myself and others.
Another antidote to laziness is to take action to meet one’s own difficulties. Recognize your own mind-monsters, those patterns of negative and wrong-headed thinking, and find ways of dealing with them. For instance, I am so familiar with my own tendencies to apologize for being sick that my family knows when I say “ding ding ding” as we are waiting in the ER, my guilt demon has once again elbowed me. We can all shake our heads and laugh. (I have many more monsters romping undomesticated, but this little one is recognized.)
It’s when we don’t understand our own mind stream patterns that we get confused and think the world is causing those patterns. (“You make me feel guilty” versus “I’m feeling guilty.”) When I recognize my thought patterns, I can meet them with kindness, with accommodation, even with delight.
The third antidote to laziness is to remember your intention. What is it you want to accomplish? What inspired you? Traditionally, this is about meditation. Why do you want to meditate? The question comes with a traditional answer: to liberate ourselves and all beings from suffering.
These questions work outside the spiritual realm. What is your intention for the day? If you want to get clean clothes, you need to gather up the dirty ones and head for the laundry. No amount of sitting on the couch thinking about clean clothes will make them cleaner. What inspires you? If you have been watching painters on YouTube, you can get out some pains and try it yourself. The first step is to do something!
When you find yourself lagging or losing heart, consider Buddhist wisdom. Take action, recognize your own mind stream patterns, remember your intention. Then return to your tasks trying to make a joyful game of it.
In your journal:
- “I would like to make a habit of…”
- “I’m enthusiastic about…”
- “The mind stream pattern I notice that doesn’t work for me is…”
- “When my energy lags, I…”
- “I am inspired by…”
- How can you inject joy into your task?
- How can you be led by joy?