It began with a withering comment from a friend. Over a couple of quiet drinks, conversation drifted towards the merits of our favourite movies. The object of our shared affection, The Big Lebowski, inevitably cropped up.
Set in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, this stoner classic by the Coen brothers tells the convoluted tale of a slacker called the Dude (Jeff Bridges). A likeable dropout, he's scorned by the establishment yet seems to cruise through life. The Dude's sole mission? To seek compensation for a soiled rug.
His adage - ''the Dude abides'' - sums up his appeal. He accepts change, lives in the moment and is unburdened by worldly concerns.
At the bar, I confessed my admiration for the character. For a time in my youth, I said, I thought I might become a bit like him.
My friend looked at me. ''No, Megan. No,'' she snorted derisively. ''You. Are. Not. The Dude.''
I couldn't argue with her. Somewhere along the way, my erstwhile flaky tendencies had morphed into a hypertidiness and an exacting dependability. Where once I could spend days mooching, I'm now a fastidious organisation fiend. No, I was not the Dude. I was very, very un-Dude.
So began my quest to chill out and go with the flow. Over a few weeks, could the Dude teach me to be a messier, less reliable and more relaxed person?
I quickly discovered I was not the only one asking. The decade since the film was released has given rise to a movement called Dudeism. Dubbed the world's ''slowest-growing religion'', its website (dudeism.com) describes it as ''an ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness, practises as little as possible and above all, uh … lost my train of thought there''.
Founded six years ago by a Thailand-based journalist, Oliver Benjamin, the Church of the Latter-Day Dude now has about 150,000 ordained followers.
Behind the college-boy humour, the movement draws on philosophies such as Taoism, Buddhism and humanism and has spawned books, clubs and online fan pages. It parallels other groups, such as the Lebowski Fest, an annual celebration that began in 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky.
But before I sign up, I want to learn more. I first saw the film years ago, so after a quick refresher I call Benjamin, who now spends much of his time in LA.
He tells me he came upon the idea after spending much of the '90s travelling around Asia studying different philosophies.
A friend recommended the film and, after watching it a couple of times, Benjamin realised the Dude's fortifying message of ''taking 'er easy'' was perfect for postmodern times. ''It really does tap into something deep and meaningful,'' he says.
Benjamin assures me I don't have to slavishly follow the Dude's lifestyle. ''The Dude is an object of veneration; he's an ideal,'' he says.
''Very few people can be that way or even should be that way … The [aim] is not to be the Dude but to bring more dude into your life.''
Benjamin suggests setting aside more time to sleep in, to stare at the wall or to meditate. I immediately determine to do all three.
But I'm still missing a proper mental framework. For this, I turn to the 12-step program Benjamin and fellow author Dwayne Eutsey devised for their self-help book, The Abide Guide (Ulysses Press). One tip stands out from all the rest.
''Say, 'F--- it'. That's your answer for everything,'' the tome counsels. ''By leaving the strands in our heads unknotted, we can easily let them go. If things don't work out, then leave them alone.''
These lines resonate in my mind a few days later while preparing for a dinner party. Things aren't going well: by mid-afternoon the pantry is bare and I've discovered huge cracks in the crockery. But before I begin to fret, a question pops into my head: ''What would the Dude do?''
F--- it, of course. So I find the easiest recipe I can, drop by the supermarket and slap a meal together. The result is no masterpiece but my guests seem happy.
The next test arrives a few days later. After conducting a long interview, I rewind my recording and press play. Silence. I muck about with buttons and pop the batteries out and in. But nothing helps. Again, I think of the Dude. Suddenly, I realise my thinking has become very uptight. I nudge the volume up and there it is: every word loud and clear. I praise the Dude.
A week later, however, things aren't going so well. My to-do list is as orderly as ever and I'm still hooked on my smartphone.
Relaxing, it transpires, is hard work. I also start to wonder if a woman can really crack the Dudeist way. While I've met plenty of Dude-ish men over the years, many women, it seems, have trouble slacking off.
I get in touch with Julie Miller, a travel writer from Sydney. She's not an ''Orthodox Dudeist'', she says, but subscribes to many of the ideals.
''I don't fit the stereotype: I don't have facial hair,'' she says.
''But as a freelancer I can relate. I wear trackie dacks and thongs and I can work from home and be a total slob. I don't think the Dude is gender-specific.''
Still, after a dreary weekend lounging about sipping White Russians (the Dude's preferred tipple), I'm not convinced of the benefits of loafing. I don't feel content, I feel fed up. It turns out I like order. I'm happy being organised. I enjoy doing stuff.
I call a psychologist, Victoria Kasunic, to ensure I'm on the right track. She says this Dudeism caper sounds fun and healthy - to a degree. ''The danger with going totally with the flow is that your life will drift,'' she says. ''You have to have some sense of setting your own course, so you can't go completely hands-off. But there are quite a few people in Sydney who could use a little bit of Dudeism.''
Feeling reassured, I reach out to other Australian Dudeists on the web. An ordained Dudeist priest from Newcastle calls for a chat. Another from the south coast gets in touch. Ronald Tucker, a Dudeist priest who moved from North America to Australia partly for the ''Dudeish'' lifestyle, invites me to a Lebowski festival (lebowskibash.com.au) he is organising in Sydney.
''[The Dude] has really taught me a valuable lesson,'' he says, ''and it's that you just have to slow down sometimes, as hard as it is and take it easy''.
The people I speak to share similar stories. They hold down jobs, they have homes and steady relationships. They're not deadbeats, they've just found a calmer way of living. They use words such as ''evolution'' and ''progression'' to describe their Dudeist journey. It makes me think. I've been rushing mine. I need to take it easy. And abide.