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In my early 20s, young, impressionable, and quite lost, I spent a couple of years living the life of a Western ascetic.
I was a yoga teacher living in ashrams, and all of my clothes happened to be yellow.
I found this home because of a particularly bad breakup, and what was meant to be a two-week retreat to clear my head ended up being a two-year retreat in an attempt to “find myself.”
Eventually, I would leave that life to pursue psychotherapy. But, cut to about a year and a half into my tenure as one of the many Western spiritual seekers who’d found an Eastern tradition—something different from the ways we were raised, despite my own upbringing in a Tibetan Buddhist household—and all of these esoteric yogic practices felt like they were doing something for me.
“Be up and doing” was one such motto of the guru I’d found myself studying under. Wake up early, practice yogasana, meditate, study scripture, teach, volunteer my service, and repeat. In essence, do so much more.
I was living in a new ashram and studying Ayurveda with a doctor who held residence at this retreat centre. She was convinced my path was to be an Ayurvedic doctor myself, and had agreed to fund my studies with her thus far. It was a good life. It was a simple life. Or, so it seemed.
One weekend, a motivational speaker came to talk to the many yoga students on retreat. He was a fairly well-known fellow, a published author, with a movie having been made about his life. I was required to attend such talks.
This man’s talk was beautifully performed; he knew how to play with a crowd’s energy.
It was all about how the burgeoning study of epigenetics showed, without a doubt, how we could all benefit and heal ourselves simply through perseverance. The energy was high in this crowd of a few hundred young people as he showed slides proving the wonders of epigenetics, as well as a video of a recent weekend event he held, wherein people were literally healing themselves—in a matter of days—of all sorts of diseases and disorders.
I sat there, watching how excited everyone was, in horror.
The truth was that this man was selling us all on his rather expensive weekend seminars. He told us of how he, himself, had literally healed his own body in a matter of weeks after being nearly paralyzed. He was using epigenetics (which, as fascinating as the study of epigenetics is, is not a miraculous discovery that can heal us of all our woes) and other such big words to sell a product.
This product was a panacea, and, although most spiritual practices we seek may not be so forward in purporting such benefits as this man’s talk was, if we are being honest with ourselves, this is usually the reason we get into such things in the first place.
And, often with some of these new agey practices, this is exactly what we are being told will happen:
Just do this, buy this, study and practice this, and all will be right as rain; all will be light and love.
We are looking for something outside of ourselves to fix something we feel is wrong about ourselves.
I know I was.
I was looking for something to fill the sense of lack within me, and isn’t this concept of enlightenment we’ve been gifted by all of these Eastern traditions a wonderful way of going about it? And aren’t we soothed when we meet such teachers who seem to have reached this place themselves? All we need do is listen and follow their guidance.
And yet, in recent years, we have come to find that so many of these seemingly enlightened beings have been manipulating and abusing their students for years. This was as true of some head teachers in the ashrams I found myself resident in, as it has been for so many other spiritual communities of late.
So where is the misstep?
For me, I was able to disentangle myself of this world when I finally came to see spirituality as not about gaining more, but rather letting go. Doing less, rather than attaining more.
And funnily enough, most traditions allude to this in the first place. It just doesn’t seem natural for us to listen to this one lesson in particular—we are conditioned that if we want something, we must have to find it and get it, because we must not already have it.
In Tibetan Buddhism, we talk of relaxing and “letting be.” In Zen, they speak of killing the very Buddha.
So how have we lost sight of such simplicity, of finding our own personal power and agency, and instead taken to giving ourselves over to our teacher?
Granted, in Hinduism and Buddhism alike, they talk of surrendering to the guru. Complete surrender. But the guru was never meant to be a person to give all of ourselves to, to lose ourselves in. They were meant to be a guide from darkness to light (or perhaps from light to darkness).
I have always liked Carl Jung’s quote, that the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. For me, this brings a sense of enquiry to whomever I meet.
Those whom I would identify as the most enlightened tend to lead the simplest of lives. They have let go of all the rules and restraints. They have really touched their own personal darkness, and not shied away and toward the light. And, paradoxically of course, in doing so, they tend to have found a much deeper sense of that very light. Only now it is more of a lightness rather than some blinding, esoteric, and ephemeral thing.
And of course, paradoxically, this doing less business becomes one of the hardest things we do, while doing more often takes a much higher toll on ourselves.
Continually trying certainly took its toll on me. I never seemed to feel as though I was doing enough. I was never quite there, as it were. There was always another hurdle to cross, another mountain to ascend.
So I stopped climbing. And I rested.
And that was when meditation became far more interesting to me (I had practiced meditation since childhood). And what a funny thing it was, that doing less seemed to feel like so much more.
As Carl Rogers, the father of humanistic psychology, said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
But change into what, exactly?
When biofeedback began, it was expected that, if one could see their heart rate in real time, for instance, it would be easier to intentionally lower it. When participants were hooked up to these sensors and were asked to try and lower their heart rates, however, they often found just the opposite: their heart rates went up.
Which leads me to this silly concept of the “lazy warrior.”
I don’t think the lazy warrior is really preoccupied with whether you or I are doing it right. Granted, I do think the lazy warrior will cut down everything that seems unnecessary. All of the excess. The right spiritual practices—cut all of that right down in its tracks, too.
I also don’t think that the lazy warrior is too concerned with teaching the correct way. Because that just seems too subjective. Too personal. My right way and your right way are probably going to be two very different ways.
Does that bother the lazy warrior? Nah.
They’re only interested in what feels useful. Feels being the key word here. Remember how important feeling truly is. That’s intuition. That’s our bodies.
Did you know that ashrams were meant to be places for wandering ascetics to visit for no more than three days? Food and a place to sleep, but any more and they might become attached. They might not want to leave.
Now, I think that all of this non-attachment business we’ve adopted from Buddhism and Hinduism is becoming misunderstood—we use it too often to justify staying emotionally disconnected, both from others and from ourselves. I would also say that the lazy warrior, they don’t become enmeshed. Oh, no. However, they are able to connect and, when the time is right, let go.
This isn’t a description of attachment or non-attachment; this is a description of healthy boundaries. Of knowing how to open, how to close, how to love themselves and others.
I think the lazy warrior finds drama just a little bit overly dramatic. They might take pleasure in some drama, but aren’t too interested in getting lost in it anymore.
A good deal of things just seem a tad boring to the lazy warrior these days. So, they’ve let those things go. Instead, they hold on to, and adore those things that feed their soul.
And of course, they know those things will rarely, if ever, last. Yet they believe that this ephemerality brings with it such an uncommon sense of beauty. And so they treasure these endings. For the grief, the death, brings with it a kind of rebirth. A kind of love.
For some in Buddhism, reincarnation and the bardo states allude to a new, physical birth after this current one ends (so be careful that you don’t curse just before you exhale your final breath…). For others, these ideas show us that we are constantly, in every single moment, ending and becoming something entirely new.
I don’t think the lazy warrior minds any of this at all. And, when they sit down to rest, they do just that. They relax. They do less. And, when they need to move, they do so with all of the strength and stamina they had been caring for.
Indeed, I think if I were ever to follow another spiritual path, to say, “Yep, that’s the one for me!” it would probably be the way of the lazy warrior.
There wouldn’t be a book about it, because getting it down on paper would just be trying too damn hard.
Maybe, then, it would be passed on through stories, hopefully funny ones like Nasreddin. But, then again, the moral of the first story might just be to stop looking. And to do less.