2013-04-03

Beware the Ubersloth

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 façade, 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. Now I know you’re lying down eating a Milky Way with garbage surrounding you and thinking that now I’ve lost my mind. [These people] can’t possibly be construed as one of us....When you achieve true slothdom, you have no desire for the world to change. True sloths are not revolutionaries. There is no possible dialectic. It doesn’t matter if the world evolves, because your purpose is not to get things done....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.”
In this way, we see again that sloth is about disconnection. We can disconnect from life and from ourselves by lethargic withdrawal. We can also disconnect from life and from ourselves through frenetic activity.

So consider the lilies, how they grow. They bring their presence, growing out of connection to the earth. They are still. The quiet stillness of the flower is not to be confused with the inert lethargy of the sloth. Wasserstein also distinguishes between the stillness of the meditater and the stillness of the sloth, though she is satirically arguing for the superiority of the sloth:
“Meditation takes work and is an enforced form of tranquility. Lethargiosis is not a state of tranquility, it is a state of pointlessness.”
The need, then is to lighten up on our preoccupations with work and worry and achievement. The sloth’s strategy for doing that is to disconnect. What Jesus and thousands of spiritual teachers of every generation and every faith tradition have taught is the opposite: connect. Work and worry, too, are merely another form of disconnecting.

Consider the lilies, the wildflowers, the flowers of the field, all the colors and shapes that flowers come in. If we listen to our deepest selves, if we come awake, we are always aware of and utilizing paths to connection. Connected to self, we then notice ways to connect to others and to life itself.

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This is part 9 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 4 of 4 on Sloth)
Next: Part 10: "Faith and Fellowship, Greed and Grace"
Previous: Part 8: "Student Assistants to Life"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"