(Note: You might be wondering at the title combined with the more than two weeks this writing took. Actually, this blog was almost completely written in the first four days, and yes, did include a moment of looking at some resistance to writing more and considering if it was laziness, which it was at that time. But as you know, this is the busiest of all seasons. For me, too. Now I’m finally getting back to it after almost two weeks away from it.)

Ti (leading sphinx pose in class while helping a student): “Reach all of your toes back…even the (pause) lazy right big toe.” (I didn’t necessarily mean it was lazy as much as nothing was happening with it, and that’s what came out at the moment.)

Kim (she told me it’s OK to use her name): “I’ve been working with clients to not use the word ‘lazy.’ Is there another word that you could use?”

This started an interesting discussion and follow-up email thread with this sensitive, powerful and insightful, long-time student and fellow-explorer of the Inner Worlds.

I first suggested, left out or forgotten but also shared how difficult it is for the “pusher” ego (meaning: most of the people who return to my yoga classes) to be seen as—or to think of itself as—“lazy.” However, over years, I found it very helpful to be able to see that aspect of myself clearly and to actually claim it as part of the whole picture of me. It felt like an important part of my healing. (Like a dying of one of the Sacred Concepts that I had written about previously.)

Even that being the case, the student’s question is still a great one. Lazy is often not an accurate view on that…big toe, for example. It’s just a short and convenient way to describe an external phenomenon—an effect—that, no doubt, is deeper and more nuanced and complex in its causes than that word implies. It’s also an easy way to judge and criticize the phenomenon since for most of us, lazy is a bad thing to be.

I also suggested she check out a thesaurus after class as well.

She emailed me later: “Maybe the big toe IS lazy! Here are some other good descriptors: inactive, indolent, work-shy, lackadaisical, leisurely, and my least favorite: good-for-nothing!” (Ti: which makes lazy sound good! It’s all relative!)

Later she added: “Is it laziness or self-care? We will never know as true objectivity is an illusion.”

Very true, but we can at least investigate more deeply, endeavoring to be as honest with ourselves as possible. I took it as inspiration to look deeper into my experience. Please don’t consider the “big toe” as what this is all about! It’s a symbol—hopefully obviously—for any other parts of our unconscious and of our being that are inactive, not energized, or not yet acknowledged, for whatever reason.

What follows hopefully reveals a larger vocabulary and bigger perspective on a specific phenomenon, but it’s also an invitation into a deeper personal investigation on your part. Greater awareness leads us to relate and act differently. Reading this will not help you in any way, though, if you don’t check out your experience in the moment it’s happening. “Looking at it” after the fact—which is just thinking about it—is essentially meaningless, and that energy can be better used. I guarantee that some part of yourself or body will show up as “lazy” now or soon, if you are willing to see it. I found all of the following in my direct experience in four days, so I can’t imagine others don’t have the same potential.

The ways of viewing the issue seem to be broadly categorized as relating to and coming from the big toe itself or as relating to how the rest is relating to it. In some cases there is overlap.

In general, if some part isn’t active, it’s not active for a reason. Some reasons might be completely valid—or at least were valid at some time. There will be some reasons that we will say, “OK, big toe, please remain inactive.” We will at other times find inactivity that has no compelling argument for it to continue. Some “laziness” can be traced merely to habit. None of this can we know in advance.

As Kim wrote, that part might be lazy or lackadaisical; it just doesn’t have much “gumption” or energy to make effort. If it’s lazy, that is one possible reason that it would be inactive or indolent—wanting to avoid being active. It could be “work-shy,” which could indicate that it doesn’t yet realize the joy and good feeling that can come from being active, potentially even very active.

It may be afraid of being hurt in some way. It being active may cause it—or other parts that it’s protecting—to be in pain or to be compromised in some way. Or it may have been that way in the past and just fell into habit. If it’s coming from pain-avoidance, then the “laziness” might actually be—or have been—a functional form of “self-care,” at least temporarily. However, without more awareness, in the long-run, it may turn out to have the opposite effect.

If it’s leisurely, it just may not feel any need for speed; it’ll do what it feels that it needs to when it feels that it needs to, not necessarily on the time-frame of the ego mind. The ego, of course, would prefer things to be done faster; already done is better. However, body parts and other parts of our beings may just need more time to “work things out.” If it’s leisurely, it could also indicate that it’s simply uninspired and will just “phone in” the activity.

It could also be that it is not aware of its capacities and possibilities. It may have every interest and even willingness to be active, but for any number of reasons, it may not know that it can actually do something—or even do a lot! It may not know how to access the energy, or it might be shy of showing up as a powerful and contributing part of the whole. It could even be afraid of its capacities and possibilities. Or it could just be completely unwilling to contribute its effort, energy and consciousness; it may just not care about what’s happening or about the “project” that is occurring.

The “part” could be completely unconscious—like there’s nobody home or completely out of the awareness—either of “its own” choice or by the demands of the rest of the organism. It could have “checked out” of its own volition or just been ignored so long that it “fell asleep” from disuse.

Or maybe it went “on vacation” and just got used to being in that mode. It’s “on a tropical island” enjoying the local intoxicant completely oblivious that it might be needed in some way. Other parts have so far been willing to “pick up the slack,” and there has been no need for that part to find some energy and fulfill its role.

The other parts are often willing to “fill in” and apply the needed effort—in many cases even enthusiastically, and often in an ego-gratifying way. (Think: the quads or the neck and shoulders, if you need a tangible body part to relate this to. On the mental level, some of us could relate it to the worrying or complaining parts of the mind, or to the problem-solver or do-er.) The other parts will be happy doing the added work…till they’re not, and by then they’re generally pissed off at the ongoing “vacation” that their neighbor has been taking at their expense, at which time the “lazy” part will be then be perceived as “good-for-nothing!”

(Aha! That term—and much of this—reveals more about the perceiver than about the “big toe,” doesn’t it! That’s extremely important to realize!)

Sometimes a part won’t be participating simply because there’s just so much else going on, and often the thing itself is not at the center of attention or effort, so it can more easily be forgotten, neglected, or put on the back-burner. It becomes just an afterthought, a low-priority, possibly a very low priority. Due to the nature of what’s happening, other parts—at least temporarily—require much more attention and energy, so simply as an energy-saving device, that “big toe” doesn’t get any energy or attention, until it’s pointed out. It may have been this way for Kim in the sphinx pose that day with her actual right big toe.

However, it could also be that other parts deem it to be completely unimportant and thus feel justified in neglecting it, regardless of its willingness, interest or ability in being active in some desired way. This perspective is more potentially “evil” than the previous simple neglect. Imagine this perspective in a political framework and that statement becomes obvious. (In my view “both” political parties in the U.S. do this, obviously in different ways.) This negative perspective allows the larger part to continue to ignore and deprive that “big toe” of potentially needed and desired energy, attention and care. And it could be that the bigger part just doesn’t care about that “lazy” part, period, or thinks of it as undeserving. All these perspectives are in us, so don’t feel too confident and superior!

In this vein, it’s also possible that the part feels devalued, or has actually been devalued, which can result in much of the above. If we feel devalued, we’ll feel OK with making other parts do more—basically we’ll feel OK stealing—and we’ll also potentially feel no inspiration to do any work that might actually help us since “others” might also be benefitted. It’s also possible that the part itself could feel undeserving—of the energy, of inspiration, of awareness and of value.

In the couple weeks since starting to explore this concept, in a number of different poses and life, most of the inactive, “lazy” parts that I’ve discovered just don’t care and don’t want to participate. They couldn’t care less about what’s happening or what the rest would like of them. Interestingly, after shining loving awareness on each one in the moment, for as long as it takes, the part, once it finally activates, has been glad that it did, one hundred percent of the time! I considered that one hundred percent to be a notable number and percentage!

The bottomline seems to be that if the “big toe” isn’t active, it’s just easier that it is that way. It could relate to the thing itself, and/or to the relationship of the thing itself with the whole. If we shy away from looking more deeply at it—looking more deeply at ourself—and if we do nothing to counter it, obviously it will continue. In most cases it will get “worse” in some way. Certainly we can’t “just” rebrand it in a more favorable, ego-gratifying, light. Yoga is all about awareness, on one level. It’s OK if it’s easier for “the big toe” to be the way it is, and if we see it clearly and lovingly, we then have choices and can more easily know what is the best for the moment, as well as for moving toward a desired future.