This post, on Aalasya (laziness), is the fifth of a 9-part series on the obstacles (antarayas) to spiritual practice, from verse 1:30 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:
vyādhistyānasanśaya pramādālasyāvirati bhrāntidarśanālabdha bhūmikatvānavasthitatvāni cittavikṣēpāstē̕ntarāyāḥ |
Aalaysa (pronounced AH-luhs-yuh) is a rather tricky and interesting obstacle to spiritual practice. In addition to the translation of laziness, it is also said to mean sloth, heaviness, idleness, fatigue, and apathy.
At first glance, it seems obvious to overcome this obstacle – if we’re being lazy, then we should discipline ourselves more! Many yoga philosophers and writers suggest this. Boy, doesn’t that sound like fun. Buck up and, as the saying goes, “just do it!” Create a rigorous routine and stick with it. Just decide you’re going to meditate everyday and set the timer!
Well, if it were that easy, none of us would have a problem with Aalaysa, would we? What causes us to feel apathetic and fatigued about yoga, meditation, or spiritual growth? That’s a question each of us needs to seek the answer to. Then we’ll have a better idea of how to move through Aalasya into more fulfilling and consistent spiritual practice.
Our Incessant Driver
When we recognize that we’re stuck in idleness, unmotivated to practice, the root of the issue may be from the opposite of laziness: what I call our Incessant Driver.
There is tremendous pressure in western culture to do-do-do. We are often driven into the shoulds, musts, and have-tos. We feel the stress of our work and needing to keep up performance and productivity, even to out-perform others. In social conversations, there can be a competitive feeling, as if we each need to prove our worth by how much we’re achieving (or how much our kids are achieving). It can feel like we’re on a constant treadmill, never able to get off.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the opposite arises to try to balance us out. Aalasya manifests as burnout. We’re so tired of having to do and achieve that our spiritual practice pays the price, and we drop out the one thing that probably would truly feed our souls, because we’ve had enough of the pressure to perform.
Notice if you have an Incessant Driver within that is pushing you so much that your joy has been taken as well as your energy.
Self-Flagellation May Be Part of Aalasya
The Incessant Driver works through self-flagellation. It likes to use guilt and shame in order to get us to continue to perform, which usually results in us feeling bad, or a light feeling of elation by avoiding the shame and guilt through performance. But that self-flagellation is still sitting right around the corner at any time that we disappoint the Incessant Driver.
Pull up the roots of self-flagellation (it’s actually counter-productive). Guilt and shame are poor long-term motivators. They might, in the short term, impel us to take action, but over time they will discourage us and harm our self-image.
From Self-Flagellation to Self-Compassion
The big question is how to stop beating ourselves up without falling into that opposite extreme of aalasya, or laziness. That’s our big fear and what keeps the Incessant Driver in control.
Instead, let’s find the middle ground, which begins with self-compassion (which I also suggested to deal with vyadhi, the first obstacle). It’s essential to learn to embrace ourselves with the acceptance that we’re imperfect. As hard as the Incessant Driver works, we cannot possibly meet expectations of perfection all the time.
Self-compassion is part of the antidote here. When we are self-compassionate, we pause in order to be present with ourselves and our feelings. We shift into a more caring and kind attitude, holding ourselves with understanding that we’re going to have slip-ups.
Remember, It’s Not Self-Pity
Self-compassion isn’t falling into self-pity; it allows us to have concern for our well-being, to discern what the driving energy is behind our suffering, and to support us in taking helpful actions to ease our suffering and move in a positive direction.
Listen to the messages that this time of aalasya – laziness – is sending you. What are you needing right now for your healing and restoration? By attending to these issues and your self-care (as Jared Musiker says of Yoga Life), instead of the Incessant Driver’s continual punishment, you may more quickly recover your motivation and energy for practice.
If you have slipped into a period where you are burned out and feel apathy towards your spiritual practices or growth, don’t beat up on yourself. It’s OK. It’s an expected road bump. Embrace yourself with kindness and know that it’s temporary. As you do, your heart, mind, and body will be more receptive to getting back on the meditation cushion or whatever spiritual practice you are committed to.
Clarity and Intention – Sankalpa
Once you feel a bit of receptivity to your practice once again, then use the clarity you found through self-compassion to develop your sankalpa – your inner resolve or determination. A sankalpa is essentially an intention.
Intentions keep us focused on the goal – in this case, our hopes for spiritual awakening. But intentions need to be adapted and adjusted according to circumstance. It’s OK to reassess your intentions based on what you discovered about aalaysa, your fatigue and “laziness”.
Did you want to do yoga for an hour every day, but it turned out to be unrealistic with your work schedule? Then either adjust the time that you commit to, or consider every other day or 3 times a week as a more achievable goal. You’ll feel better being consistent with a realistic intention rather than a pie-in-the-sky, unreachable sankalpa that you keep falling short of. If your practice is more important to you than the time put in for work, perhaps a reassessment of your work commitments or how you run your business is in order.
Joyful and Possible
Create a sankalpa that feels aligned with your principles and also feels good in your body and heart. Yes, I can do that and it feels joyful or possible for me. Be wary of a sankalpa that sounds impressive – spiritual practice is not to satisfy the ego or to show others how “evolved” you are. It is to guide you to your Divine Self. Sometimes, that is a little humbling and asks us to take a step back. “Less is More” is the motto here – perhaps less time, intensity, or energy and more devotion, awareness, and Presence in the practice.
Yes, spiritual practice does require some discipline; but that doesn’t mean flogging yourself. It means a gentle but firm, consistent redirection to the goal. When we apply our sankalpa with compassion, clarity, commitment, and consistency, we’re less likely to fall into aalaysa, the fifth obstacle to spiritual practice.
Finding that your anxiety is triggered by the Incessant Driver? My book, Awakening from Anxiety, can help you find your calm and determination again!
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