2017-05-11

Sloth

Is sloth such a bad thing? Jesus bids us to,
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin” (Luke 12:27, NRSV).
Those flowers sound pretty slothful.

In dealing with sloth, or any of the “deadly sins,” the point is not to squelch, repress, or exorcise the sin, but to understand why it’s there and to recognize its positive function. We all need to chill out, take a break, de-stress sometimes. There’s a lot to like about sloth.

We are here to create connection by helping each other to listen to our deepest selves, open to life’s gifts, and serve needs greater than our own. In our deepest self, we know that we, too, like the lillies, shine with a beauty that we do not have to earn, do not work for. It comes not from what we do but from just what we are.

Bertrand Russell’s 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” makes the positive case:
“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”
Long work days keep us from activities that are more fun and creative, and the economic productivity of work enriches the government, which uses that wealth to build up its military and fight wars. Thus, says Russell:
“The road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.”
Playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s book on Sloth is a parody of self-help books. Her book within the book is called Sloth and How to Get It: A Guide to Living a Happy and Guilt-Free Slothful Life. In it, the authorial persona
“claims to have tried every self-improvement plan known to addled Americans, from the Atkins diet to getting in touch with her inner child, until discovering the solution, Sloth.”
The book lays out
“a program for achieving absolute indolence, the secret of a stress-free life....You have the right to be lazy. You can choose not to respond. You can choose not to move."
The vital first step in becoming a sloth is to
"break the cycle of excess energy and stored dreams. Sloth will release you from all the terrible shoulds dominating your life.”
The book tells how to become a sloth in your diet, exercise, work, and even love-life: it warns against true love, for that leads to passion, and passion is the biggest enemy of sloth.

The rapier of satire shows us the real issue at one point when it is describing the false prophets who would lead us astray from the salvation of sloth. One of these false prophets declares, “I don’t need to rest. I get high on life.” The book responds:
“This is bologna if I ever heard it. Who could possibly get high on life? In life, there is disease, random acts of violence, natural disasters, undisclosed fascist governments, not to mention world poverty and hunger. If you look life in the face, you couldn’t possibly get high on it. Even love fades. Once you adopt sloth, you are dealing with a responsible reaction to the truth about living.”
There in a flash the problem is exposed: disconnection. Confronted with disease, violence, oppression, injustice how do we not disconnect from life?

The spiritual calling is to stay present to life, even the hard parts. We are called to be a student assistant to life. The student assistant is ultimately not in charge, yet here to learn, and to help others.

In the final chapter of her book, Sloth, Wendy Wasserstein offers an ironic insight. She describes the "ubersloth" -- a person who
“achieve(s) slothdom in a subtle and camouflaging way.”

“Have you ever been lying on your couch, watching four well-groomed women of diverse ethnicities on television chatting about how they manage to get everything done? They call themselves ‘jugglers,’ and they’re all able to have husbands, children, careers, social causes, plus they exercise three hours a day, eat only vegetables, and employ personal stylists to tell them what to wear every morning. Or, have you ever seen a man on television talking about how he made $100 million before he was thirty, then walked from New York to China, directed three Oscar-winning movies, got married four times, each with better and better sex with a different gendered partner? In their outside fa├žade, they are they anti-sloths – the doers and shakers. But just like in politics, where the extreme right and the extreme left meet, so in sloth the extremes merge into one another....Are these hyperscheduled, overactive individuals really creating anything new? Are they guilty of passion in any way? Do they have a new vision for their government? For their community? Or for themselves? Their purpose is to keep themselves so busy, so entrenched in their active lives, that their spirit reaches a permanent state of lethargiosis. In other words, their hyperactivity is no different than your or my slothfulness. Whether you’re a traditional sloth or a New Age ubersloth, we are all looking at the possibility of real thought, and rejecting it....For myself, stylistically, I prefer to remain on my couch. But the creative, spiritual, and political void of these new ubersloths makes me proud.”
We can disconnect from life and from ourselves by lethargic withdrawal. We can also disconnect from life and from ourselves through frenetic busy-ness.

The need, then is to lighten up on our preoccupations with work and worry and achievement, but without sinking into unremitting indolence. The middle way affords space for connecting to our life.

* * *
See also
The Seven Deadlies
Gluttony
Greed/Avarice
Anger/Wrath
Envy
Lust
Pride

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