Happy New Year, Desire, and Suffering: Another Attempt


Okay.  I submit to the overwhelming pressure of readers–one in particular–of my blog to re-post my defecatory New Year’s shout-out.  I suppose a good, committed writer should have no fears, experience no self-doubt nor give in to personal second guessing about what words one puts on paper or the computer monitor.  But I did, worrying a little too much about possible negative reactions to me addressing my biological functions in order to satirize the whole new year’s resolution thing and more importantly, worrying too much about readers’ opinions of me.  I suppose, though, for anyone who already knows me and my writing and the way I perceive the world in absurd terms, the notion that I could disappoint them and lower myself more in their eyes by writing absurdly and grotesquely in order to make them laugh from deep in their gut is indeed absurd.  They probably expect even more absurdity, profanity, and grotesqueness from me than what I have delivered so far in any of my writing.  And they probably deserve it!  (Go ahead and laugh, all you *&%%$&s, $$%(*)*&(rs, *@%$%$^%$$s!!!!!  (Hee, hee…I love y’all!)

So here’s the piece I originally posted on New Years Day with only a couple of minor edits.  Also, I forgot the original post title, but I think the new one is close enough.  I think the colon(ized) title makes this a very serious piece! (Is that an unintended, unconscious, grotesque pun I just typed that inadvertently refers back to the introduction of the piece?  I think so!!!  Whoopee!)


I defecated this morning for the first time in 2010.  It wasn’t everything I’d hoped for, but it was a decent start to the “New” Year.

I figure that as long as I persist in taking my fiber supplement every night before bedtime I’ll have a good year.  That should be one of my most important resolution renewals, I suppose.

While I was performing my first toilet task of the year and petting my male cat Baldo—he likes to support my bathroom efforts while purring madly, pulling my hands toward him to ensure proper petting follow through on my part—I had a thought about desire and suffering, two central concerns of Buddhist thought.

Specifically, I wondered about animal desire and suffering and how it is similar to and different from human desire and suffering.  But that just got me to thinking about desire and suffering in general.

Anyway, here’s my messy, thought-full outcome:


While sitting on the toilet, I wondered: “Do we humans suffer more because we are meaning-generating creatures.  And is it because we desire meaning in life generally and our personal lives specifically at some basic level that we often create the conditions for our suffering?”

When Baldo enters the bathroom to disrupt my elimination meditations, purring and whining for attention for reasons I’ve never understood—does he not like me sitting on the “can” because it’s scary looking or because it distracts me from paying all my attentions to him while performing largely biological rituals–or when he whines to be fed, is his desire purely instinctual and gustatory, or does it have something to do with reasserting our social relationship.  (He and Chica often will demand that I watch them eat partly due to my own fault of regularly watching them eat food early in our relationships.)

I’ve watched a lot of the Animal Planet channel programs including “Animal Precinct” since I became a pet caretaker a few years ago.  Suffering because of neglect and intentional abuse in all its varieties is clearly evident in the animals regularly rescued, adopted out, and so often, for a dearth of adequately trained caretakers or hopelessly diseased and abused animals, euthanized.

The obvious sadness in the drooping eyes of these suffering animals is clear.  Their confusion, loneliness, and fear is physically and emotionally palpable in their usually emaciated, bug ridden, and abused bodies.


If the eyes are the “windows” to the soul, at times I see my own sadness and dissatisfaction, my own suffering because I am unsatisfied by not meeting my own expectations which are tied to socially constructed life expectations of “success” and “well-being.”

Indeed, one of Buddha’s critical concerns or observations about suffering is that the desires that are the source of suffering and that we imagine are central, indeed natural, to us are illusory, artificial cultural creations.

These desires, hopes, and dreams may be anything we pin our identities to, those inherited notions we are trained in from birth to believe in and act faithfully on and that we pass on to succeeding generations as if they are natural, eternal verities.  Our intellectual, cultural, psychological, and moral “habits”—Catholic nuns wear their habits; do we also wear ours (our business suits, our up to date fashions) that signal our sacred devotions and dogmas, that we only take off unwillingly and temporarily when not in view of others whose judgments reinforce our self-conceptions?–which in some sense are little more than environmental, historically situated “obsessive compulsions” that create the conditions for individual and collective suffering when they, as regularly happens, are challenged by external influences?


(So is desire the source of suffering or is suffering about unmet, frustrated, thoughtless desire?  Is there a place for desire if its origins are understood and benefits tangible and universal, i.e. when it results in non-suffering for all creatures?)


As a post-structuralist scholar, meaning for me is always incomplete, socially constructed, elusive, fleeting, dynamic, and, finally, illusory. In many ways Buddhism similarly sees the socially constructed, fabricated world we live in and joins with and supports my intellectual and personal idiosyncrasies, many I never really understood growing up.

(I never understood my absurdist, ironic sense of humor, some of it coming from growing up biracial in a predominantly “white,” religiously conservative community and not understanding how racial difference had already “constructed” me as an “other,” as a stranger of some sort. My working-class Mexican American father who has always looked at life from a “darker” perspective coming from his own experience of racial exclusion in Texas and then living for much of his adult life in Utah; some of it from my Scots Irish working–class mother who never felt like her creative, artistic “talents” and those of her family were fully appreciated by the “outside” world; and some from an intellectual capacity that remained untapped and unrecognized until I met intellectual mentors and friends at the University of Minnesota who encouraged and helped me cultivate into something disturbingly provocative and exhilarating.  I remember one “date,” when I  was a much younger man, who told me she thought I was “weird.” As a clueless young Latino who had no well-developed notion of his cultural and intellectual identity subliminally at odds with the community he lived in at the time, I could not understand the deeper implications and potential meaning of her description of me.)

As a post-structuralist scholar with Buddhist tendencies it is easier to begin to explain how our desire is based on illusory, fleeting desires and identities in the stories—“narratives” in poststructuralist academic parlance—we obsessively/compulsively tell ourselves.

(I have to clear my bowels thoroughly this morning or I will be very unhappy today! I must make money today or I will be unhappy today!  I must master this or that task or I will be dissatisfied today!  Everyone must agree with me and tell me I’m great or I will be worthless!  I am unique and exceptional and can do no wrong!  I am an individual!  I am an American and we are the best, the smartest, so that means I am the best, the smartest!  I/we have a special place in history!  Yes, I hear it implicitly and explicitly in the media everyday that even as we suffer, and sometimes it is because we suffer, are beset and besieged by others—others just don’t get it or don’t believe in our exceptionalism, so they must make us suffer to bring us down–that it must be true!)


I am “Tiger” Woods.

Can you spell “h-u-b-r-i-s?”

Hubris is D-E-S-I-R-E writ large.  (Here is redundancy in the service of making things clear.)

Prior to Tiger’s recent “crash”—literal and figurative—it was hard to imagine him actually performing a natural biological function like taking a “shit.”  No?

Now we find out that he prefers to “shit” on others, although, as in most carefully constructed narratives—fictions like his own, even the seemingly historically “true” ones—the stories are full of “holes.”

There are always “leaks,” “cracks,” ironies (“highly incongruous contrasts” is Linda Hutcheon’s definition of irony) in our carefully crafted personas.  (“Tiger” Woods/skanks+shanks=irony. President Barack Obama/effective leadership=irony. Randy Rodriguez/nastiness+money+power+babes=irony.) Our socially constructed selves, the narratives we inherit that we either simply polish up, simplify and armor or reject in favor of new, innovative creations that can be just as fictitious and constructed as our inherited versions, are the narratives of “desire”—our intentions to fulfill some prescribed or inherited or imagined cultural ideal—that serve as our foundations for suffering if we are committed to them and we do not adequately fulfill their criteria of mastery.


And so I’m back to entertaining the desire of my lackluster morning evacuation, Baldo’s desires expressed in his daily chirping-whining-meowing performances, Tiger Woods’ failed effort to keep his contrived narrative/identity simple and pure, and the implications and meaning for this post-structuralist intellectual/half-hearted Buddhist of what I haven’t even commented on directly: “Happy” New Year.

I’ll leave you now to your own devices to ponder desire and your relationship to suffering at the beginning of this new year.

2 thoughts on “Happy New Year, Desire, and Suffering: Another Attempt

  1. You’re much too modest about your talents and overly generous describing mine, amiga mia. There are moments I can’t imagine what I’d do without people who get my “shit.” I thank the gods I no longer believe in for giving me wonderful friends like you, eden. Paz y justicia! Que viva…

  2. i desire your talent as a thinker, as a writer, as a person capable of such interesting contemplation. i desire your ability to produce such entertaining self-deprecation/defecation. i desire your cleverness. but i am not suffering because i don’t have these things. i am rejoicing because i have a gift too. i can appreciate them. et

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *