Being about spiritual growth, this book is inevitably about the other side of the same coin: the impediments to spiritual growth. Ultimately there is only the one impediment, and that is laziness. If we overcome laziness, all the other impediments will be overcome. If we do not overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled. So this is also a book about laziness. In examining discipline we were considering the laziness of attempting to avoid necessary suffering, or taking the easy way out. In examining love we were also examining the fact that non-love is the unwillingness to extend one’s self. Laziness is love’s opposite. Spiritual growth is effortful, as we have been reminded again and again. We are now at a position from which we can examine the nature of laziness in perspective and realize that laziness is the force of entropy as it manifests itself in the lives of all of us.
For many years I found the notion of original sin meaningless, even objectionable. Sexuality did not strike me as particularly sinful. Nor my various other appetites. I would quite frequently indulge myself by overeating an excellent meal, and while I might suffer pangs of indigestion, I certainly did not suffer any pangs of guilt. I perceived sin in the world: cheating, prejudice, torture, brutality. But I failed to perceive any inherent sinfulness in infants, nor could I find it rational to believe that young children were cursed because their ancestors had eater from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gradually, however, I became increasingly aware of the ubiquitous nature of laziness. In the struggle to help my patients grow, I found that my chief enemy was invariably their laziness. And I became aware in myself of a similar reluctance to extend myself to new areas of though, responsibility, and maturation. One thing I clearly had in common with all mankind was my laziness. It was at this point that the serpent-and-the-apple story suddenly made sense.
The key issue lies in what is missing. The story suggests that God was in the habit of “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” and that there were open channels of communication between Him and man. But if was so, then why was it that Adam and Eve, separately or together, before or after the serpent’s urging, did not say to God, “We’re curious as to why You don’t want us to eat any of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We really like it here, and we don’t want to seem ungrateful, but Your law on this matter doesn’t make much sense to us, and we’d really appreciate it if you explained it to us”? But of course they did not say this. Instead they went ahead and broke God’s law without ever understanding the reason behind the law, without taking the effort to challenge God directly, question his authority or even communicate with Him on a reasonably adult level. They listened to the serpent, but they failed to get God’s side of the story before they acted.
Why this failure? Why was no step taken between the temptation and the action? It is this missing step that is the essence of sin. The step missing is the step of debate. Adam and Eve could have set up a debate between the serpent and god, but in failing to do so they failed to obtain God’s side of the question. The debate between the serpent and God is symbolic of the dialogue between good and evil which can and should occur within the minds of human beings. Our failure to conduct—or to conduct fully and wholeheartedly—this internal debate between good and evil is the cause of those evil actions that constitute sin. In debating the wisdom of a proposed course of action, human beings routinely fail to obtain God’s side of the issue. They fail to consult or listen to the God within them, the knowledge of rightness which inherently resides within the minds of all mankind. We make this failure because we are lazy. It is work to hold these internal debates. They require time and energyjust to conduct them. And if we take them seriously—if we seriously listen to this “God within us”—we usually find ourselves being urged to take the more difficult path, the path of more effort rather than less. To conduct the debate is to open ourselves to suffering and struggle. Each and every one of us, more or less frequently, will hold back from this work, will also seek to avoid this painful step. Like Adam and Eve, and every one of our ancestors before us, we are all lazy.
So original sin does exist; it is our laziness. It is very real. It exists in each and every one of us—infants, children, adolescents, mature adults, the elderly; the wise or the stupid; the lame or the whole. Some of us may be less lazy then others, but we are all lazy to some extent. No matter how energetic, ambitious or even wise we may be, if we truly look into ourselves we will find laziness lurking at some level. It is the force of entropy within us, pushing us down and holding us all back from our spiritual evolution.
Some readers may say to themselves, “But I’m not lazy. I work sixty hours a week at my job. In the evenings and on the weekends, even though I’m tired, I extend myself to go our with my spouse, take the children to the zoo, help with the housework, do any number of chores. Sometimes it seems that all I do—work, work, work.” I can sympathize with these readers but can persist only in pointing gout that the will find laziness within themselves if they look for it. For laziness takes forms other than that related to the bare number of hours spent on the job or devoted to one’s responsibilities to others. A major form that laziness takes is fear. The myth of Adam and Eve can again be used to illustrate this. One might say, for instance, that it was not laziness that prevented Adam and Eve from questioning god as to the reasons behind His law but fear—fear in the face of the awesomeness of God, fear of the wrath of God. But while all fear is not laziness, much fear is exactly that. Much of our fear is a fear of a change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now. In the section on discipline I spoke of the fact that people find new information distinctly threatening, because if they incorporate it they will have to do a good deal of work to revise their maps of reality, and they instinctively seek to avoid that work. Consequently, more often than not they will fight against the new information rather than for its assimilation. Their resistance is motivated by fear, yes, but the basis of their fear is laziness; it is the fear of the work they would have to do. Similarly, in the section on love I spoke of the risks of extending ourselves into new territory, new commitments and responsibilities, new relationships and levels of existence. Here again the risk is of the loss of the status quo, and the fear is of the work involved in arriving at a new status quo. So it is quite probably that Adam and Eve were afraid of what might happen to them if they were to openly question God; instead they attempted to take the easy way out, the illegitimate shortcut of sneakiness, to achieve knowledge not worked for, and hope they could get away with it. But they did not. To question God may let us in for a lot of work. But a moral of the story is that is must be done.
In the earlier stages of spiritual growth, individuals are mostly unaware of their own laziness, although they may give it lip service…This is because the lazy part of the self, like the devil that it may actually be, is unscrupulous and specializes in treacherous disguise. It cloaks its own laziness in all manner of rationalizations, which the more growing part of the self is still too weak to see through easily or to combat. Thus a person will say to the suggestion that he or she gain some new knowledge in a certain area, “That area’s been studied by a lot of people and they’ve not come up with any answers” or “I know a man who was into that stuff and he was an alcoholic who committed suicide” or “I’m too old a dog to learn new tricks” or “You’re trying to manipulate me into becoming a carbon copy of yourself ..” All of these responses and many more are cover-ups of patients’ or students’ laziness, designed to disguise it not so much from the therapist or teacher as from themselves. For to recognize laziness for what it is and acknowledge it in oneself is the beginning of its curtailment.
For these reasons, those who are in the relatively more advanced stages of spiritual growth are the very ones most aware of their own laziness. It is the least lazy who know themselves to be sluggish. In my personal struggle for maturity I am gradually becoming more aware of new insights, which tend, as if of themselves, to want to slip away from me. Or I glimpse new, constructive avenues of thought on which my steps, seemingly of their own accord, start to drag. I suspect that most of the time these valuable thoughts do slip away unnoticed and that I wander from these valuable avenues without knowing what I’m doing. But when I do become conscious of the fact that I am dragging my feet, I am compelled to exert the will to quicken my pace in the very direction I am avoiding. The fight against entropy never ends.
We all have a sick self and a healthy self. No matter how neurotic or even psychotic we may be, even if we seem to be totally fearful and completely rigid, there is still a part of us, however small, that wants us to grow, that likes change and development, that is attracted to the new and the unknown, and that is willing to do the work and take the risks involved in spiritual evolution. And no matter how seemingly healthy and spiritually evolved we are, there is still a part of us, however small, that does not want us to exert ourselves, that clings to the old and familiar, fearful of any change or effort, desiring comfort at any cost and absence of pain at any price, even if the penalty be ineffectiveness, stagnation or regression. In some of us our healthy self seems pathetically small, wholly dominated by the laziness and fearfulness of our monumental sick self. Others of us may be rapidly growing, our dominant healthy self reaching eagerly upward in the struggle to evolve toward godhood; the healthy self, however, must always be vigilant against the laziness of the sick self that still lurks within us. In this one response we human beings are all equal. Within each and every one of us there are two selves, one sick and one healthy—the life urge and the death urge, if you will. Each of us represents the whole human race; within each of us is the instinct for godhood and the hope for mankind, and within each of us is the original sin of laziness, the ever-present force of entropy pushing us back to childhood, to the womb and to the swamps from which we have evolved.