Sloth and Diligence (Vice and Virtue Series, Part 4)

Part 4 in a series of posts reflecting on the vice and virtue sermons at UUCF.

Sloth is easy:  easy to write about, easy to identify in my life, easy to see in the world.   Heck, it’s easy to be slothful.  I do it every day.   Sloth as vice is not, as the sermon states, about being generally lazy.  I’m sometimes good at that, too.  Sloth as vice is, instead “falling asleep; being lazy about one’s spiritual agenda.”   Ouch.  Slothfulness, per the sermon, moves one in a direction away from the self and is a resistance to getting on with spiritual work.  Yow.

I spend a good amount of time thinking and writing about my spiritual life and matters of the cave of the heart.  I enjoy reading about spirituality, although little of that reading is of sacred writings.  I seek and appreciate time to discuss my musings in blog posts and with a few friends.  I consider myself a spiritual seeker.

I don’t spend much time in formal spiritual practice.  I don’t take time to shut down my brain and just be.  My meditation times are brief, and sloth is part of the equation.  I could set an alarm and start the day with yoga, chant, and meditation rather than waiting for my younger to wake me when he greets the day, sometime between 7 and 7:30 each morning.  I could seek refuge in my room midday, taking just fifteen minutes just be.  I could take a few minutes before bed for stillness in the dark, letting the day wash away before I drop into sleep and prepare to start all over again the next day.

Is that sloth?  Perhaps.  But as I’ve noodled on this for the last several weeks, I’m not so sure it’s the serious lack of attention to my spiritual self that I initially thought it was.  My spiritual practice extends (or should extend) to every encounter I have with self, other, and world.  My spiritual practice includes the way I respond to a crabby child, the time I take to listen to the birds outside my window, and the kindness I afford myself after I’ve done the previous two with less-than-ideal attention and compassion.  Lack of attention to my relationships is sloth as well, and, if sloth can be graded on a scale, I’d put sloth in right relations as a more serious voice than sloth in personal spiritual practice.

However, there’s a persuasive argument to be made that if you’re not in a healthy spiritual place that you’re unlikely to be able to be in right relations with others.  I can maintain my recycling and earth-friendly gardening practices even when I’m totally out of balance spiritually.  When I’ve neglected my spiritual practice for too long, I’m still a polite driver, pleasant customer, and diplomatic meeting participant.  It’s the closer relationships that suffer the most.  It’s the matters closest to the heart that are out of sorts.  My children and my beloved take the biggest hits.  And I’m not as peaceful inside, either.  Not that I’m a screaming lunatic when I haven’t meditated in a while, but I’m more likely to slip into a snarky or angry response just when love and compassion are for what the situation truly calls.

There is a connection, although how one reaches that place of balance is up to one’s choosing.  A good kirtan session carries me quite awhile, and chant on my own works nicely as well.  Maintaining a meditation practice still eludes me, but I know I’ve reaped the benefits of the practice those times I’ve put the time onto the cushion.  For others, prayer is the answer, while some silent the mind by running or biking. Writing is part of my spiritual practice, although it’s too “in my head” to be truly transcendent.  It’s a big player, however.  When I’m writing regularly, I’m more at peace and better able to maintain healthy, loving relationships with others.  It may not silent my mind, but it focuses my mind to a single point — the words on the page.  For me, that’s restorative and centering.

The antidote to and corresponding virtue of sloth is diligence:  sticking to the path of mindfulness.  Mindfulness, or focusing attention one thing at a time, is the essence of spiritual practice.  Whether the mind is on the breath or the step,  the dishes or the crying child, the mind has only one focus.  That’s hard to achieve, especially in a world of chirping cell phones, tinkling email boxes, flashing TV sets, and even black and white e-book readers.    By diligently monitoring our minds and our hearts, watching the rabbit trails that lead us away from the person in front of us or the task at hand, we takes steps away from sloth and toward a compassionate, attentive life.

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