I will say right up front that in my view and personal experience, I find it helpful to differentiate between resting, relaxing, and laziness and not to regard these three activities as being synonymous. Not to say there is anything wrong with equating these three as being the same, I myself just simply do not see them all in the same light.
I regard laziness in similar accord with sloth, which is one of the Five Hindrances in Buddhism and one of the Seven Deadly Sins in the Christian faith. So I find it important to distinguish the difference between what it means to be lazy and what it means to rest or relax.
In my view:
Resting is an art and an important element of self-care and involves quieting and slowing down both the body & the mind. Outside stimulus needs to be at an extremely low level in order to develop the art of resting, so binge watching Netflix doesn’t count here. Falling into media consumption is not resting.
Relaxing involves engaging in an activity that allows us to unwind and/or recharge our energetic fuel tank, such as: fishing, gardening, knitting, cooking, painting, woodworking, watching a movie or show, reading, doing a puzzle, playing a video game…
Laziness, on the other hand, is a deflation of energy and is the mark of a deteriorating, woeful spirit that is moving in the direction of giving up or sinking into the pits of despair.
Of course, certain activities can fit into either the relaxing category OR be branded as laziness, so it depends on the spirit in which it is done and the result that it has on our ability to re-engage in the matters and relationships associated with our daily life. If after engaging in said activity, we have more energy to invest in our home life, work life, family, friends, and community, the chances are good that it falls under the heading of relaxing. If, however, after engaging in said activity we find that we have less energy than when we started and want to keep checking out more and more, the chances are good that we’ve entered the terrain of laziness. The state of laziness does not precipitate a healthy state of affairs, instead, it drains us of our energy, drive, joy, and sense of purpose.
(Stigma reducing side note: to be clear, I am not at all likening laziness to the very real challenges consistent with forms of depression or other such mental health issues; those states are entirely different than what I am referring to here. Someone who lives with depression is NOT someone who is lazy.)
Many people paint the image of laziness with a much broader, more liberal stroke than I do – still, I take solace in defining it as I do above. Take the monasteries in our Plum Village practice tradition, for example. Every Monday at each of our monasteries, they practice what is called a Lazy Day. On Lazy Days there are no scheduled activities except for meals. There is no wake up bell at 5:00am, no organized group sitting meditation sessions, no working meditation, and no anything else scheduled (though sometimes something does get set up for the evening after dinner, see image below).
Calling these days Lazy Days has never sat well with me, and still doesn’t, not entirely anyway. I get what the intention is behind calling them Lazy Days but to me laziness is not an uplifting, helpful or nourishing state to foster, so in my mind, I replace the word Lazy with Rest and Relaxation.
If we use the word lazy to mean the same as R&R, what word can then be used to describe the kind of low-moving energy that comes when we’ve resigned our self to a state of inaction based on sinking into the pits of despair?
Last week, I shared with a friend that I was feeling lazy and unmotivated lately, in a sluggish/dragging/bleh sort of way that didn’t feel good, and my friend volleyed back: Me too but it’s not a bad thing, laziness is great! To me it was clear he and I did not share the same definition of laziness and it was also clear that he wasn’t picking up what I was putting down. He didn’t understand that I was trying to share openly and honestly about my feelings of sinking into the “pits of despair.” He wasn’t able to really hear what I was saying. I wasn’t looking to be fixed or to get advice or to be told it’s all good, I was simply looking to share my truth, just as it stands.
That interaction is what prompted me to craft this post, as it seemed a worth while and interesting topic to delve into and elaborate on. So: mission accomplished!