Sitting, Full of Shit

By Adam S. Miller

The familiarity of Academy routine took on a crushing cumulative aspect. The total number of times I’d schlepped up the rough cement steps of the stairwell, seen my faint red reflection in the paint of the fire door, walked the 56 steps down the hall to our room, opened the door and eased it gently back flush in the jamb to keep from waking Mario. I re-experienced the year’s total number of steps, movements, the breaths and pulses involved. Then the number of times I would have to repeat the same processes, day after day, in all kinds of light, until I graduated and moved away and then began the same exhausting processes of exit and return in some dormitory at some tennis-power university somewhere. Maybe the worst part of the cognitions involved the incredible volume of food I was going to have to consume over the rest of my life. Meal after meal, plus snacks. Day after day after day. Experiencing this food in toto. Just the thought of the meat alone. One megagram? Two megagrams? I experienced, vividly, the image of a  broad cool well-lit room piled floor to ceiling with nothing but the lightly breaded chicken fillets I was going to consume over the next sixty years. The number of fowl vivisected for a lifetime’s meat. The amount of hydrochloric acid and bilirubin and glucose and glycogen and gloconol produced and absorbed and produced in my body. And another, dimmer room, filled with the rising mass of the excrement I’d produce, the room’s double-locked steel door gradually bowing outward with the mounting pressure . . . . I had to put my hand out against the wall and stand there hunched until the worst of it passed.

—David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, p. 897

Glossing the Buddha’s first noble truth, let’s say that the aim of meditation is the production of an obvious but vital revelation: shit happens.

I mean this literally. Shit reveals life’s most basic shape: life happens in bodies and bodies are organs of passing.

I am a body, a mouth and an anus. I have a brain, but this brain sits on top of a mouth on top of a stomach on top of some eight meters of bowels. I have a heart for circulating food, lungs for burning it, a nervous system for detecting it, a brain for plotting about it, and limbs for chasing it down. I put the world in my mouth and the world passes through me.

What is the most obvious thing I can say about life? I’m hungry.

Bodies are organs for passing, not for clinging. You can keep part of what you eat, but only for a time. Digestion is the pulse of intra-thoracic time. The rumble in your gut is impermanence made manifest.

Life is this passing. Death is the shitless.

The second noble truth is that shit happens because we’re hungry and it is this hunger that keeps us alive. I’m not being metaphorical. This hunger is primal and saturating. Our very cells cry out for more.

Well fed, this hunger is easy to overlook. Food is like sex (and oxygen): as long as you’re having it, it doesn’t seem like a big deal.

But a body built for meeting this need doesn’t just stop when your stomach is full and the shit backs up. The body is too clever for satisfaction, too skeptical for satiety, too leery of famine.

Hunger persists out of time and adopts avatars without number.

The third noble truth is that you can realize the truth of hunger through boredom. Boredom is what happens when need temporarily ceases but hunger persists. Boredom is the restless persistence of hunger beyond satiety. It is the revelation of hunger’s character, the revelation that nothing will ever be enough. In boredom, the gears keep grinding though the drive train is no longer engaged.

Boredom is the failure of all plotting, of every project and plan and ideology. Boredom is sitting, full of shit, with the worm that still turns. Boredom is hunger revealed as such, stripped of its hope for cessation. Boredom is the cessation of hope.

The fourth noble truth is that you can practice boredom.

What is the most obvious thing I can say about meditating, about just sitting, observing my breath?

It is boring. It is waiting-for-paint-to-dry boring. It is stick-pins-in-my-eyes boring.

Sit for hours. Sit for days. Sit for weeks and months. Practice boring the shit out of yourself. Practice living with rather than running from the hunger that keeps you alive.

Ignorance (not without reason) dreads this boredom and shuns its revelation.

Sit down and make friends with this hopelessness, with this cessation. Let boredom introduce you to life, to your body, to your mouth and anus, your head and hands and feet, your eight meters of bowels.

Something humble, placid even, about inert feet under stall doors. The defecatory posture is an accepting posture, it occurs to him. Head down, elbows on knees, the fingers laced together between the knees. Some hunched timeless millennial type of waiting, almost religious. Luther’s shoes on the floor beneath the chamber pot, placid, possibly made of wood, Luther’s 16th-century shoes, awaiting epiphany. The mute quiescent suffering of generations of salesmen in the stalls of train-station johns, heads down, fingers laced, shined shoes inert, awaiting the acid gush. Women’s slippers, centurion’s dusty sandals, dock-workers’ hobnailed boots, Pope’s slippers. All waiting, pointing straight ahead, slightly tapping. Huge shaggy-browed men in skins hunched just past the firelight’s circle with wadded leaves in one hand, waiting.

—David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, p. 103

Adam S. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Villanova University, as well as a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Brigham Young University. His areas of specialization include contemporary French philosophy and philosophy of religion. He is the author of Badiou, Marion, and St Paul: Immanent Grace (Continuum, 2008), Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Kofford, 2012), and Speculative Grace: An Experiment with Bruno Latour in Object-Oriented Theology(Fordham University Press, forthcoming), the editor of An Experiment on the Word (Salt Press, 2011), and he currently serves as the director of the Mormon Theology Seminar. He contributes to the blogs The Church and Postmodern Culture and Times and Seasons.

Painting by Louis Vuittonet, “Girl 3”

50 responses to “Sitting, Full of Shit”

  1. Greg Avatar

    So . . .why do this, rather than not do this?

  2. frank jude Avatar

    Hmmm, I love the visceral image; this body filled with bowels full of shit. And Miller’s contemplation reminds me of the stories of zen practitioners having an ‘awakening’ while shitting. These stories always made a lot of sense to me.

    And yet, I can say truthfully that when I am truly paying attention, I am never bored. It’s been my experience that when I notice myself feeling bored, it is always because I’m lost in some fantasy or daydream. I start paying attention again and the boredom stops, so perhaps I’m missing something Miller is trying to get across?

  3. Bora Avatar

    I agree with Greg.

  4. mollylayton Avatar

    While we’re on the subject, see also Galway Kinnell’s poem, “Holy Shit,” in Imperfect Thirst.

  5. sometimes Avatar

    This post could not ring more true for me than it does right now. After a week of a Zazen retreat (sitting, eating, working, sitting, eating, shitting, boredom, shower, bed) I can identify with this post in a way that I perhaps could not have a few weeks ago.

    Greg– this post is exactly WHY sitting is vital for me. Sitting shows me the truth of boredom and my reaction to it in a way that otherwise I don’t let myself see as clearly. If not for the sitting, I am sure that I would distract myself from the reality of the boredom/shitting of my life, and of LIFE in general. In addition to just seeing the boredom for what it is, I find that I am acutely aware that this boredom will end. Whether through death or through the doing of the next chore, the awareness that the boredom will indeed end gives a certain weight or value to the boredom that otherwise is too easy for me to overlook.

    That is why I “do this.” But there are perhaps other ways to accomplish the same thing. Sitting is for sure not the only way. Play Barbie with a 7 year old for an hour…the same boredom is in fact revealed! Meditators/Buddhists do not have the “boredom revealing market” corned for sure, my daughter is pretty good at revealing boredom to me, acutally in revealing the truth of eating and shitting and other gross bodily functions as well. Oh yeah..fold laundry for a few hours without television, or radio, or other distractors. Once I get over the feel and smell and tactile sensations of the clean laundy…it gets pretty boring.

    Frank — I am impressed if you are never bored when paying attention. That is not a skill I have yet attained. I am not ALWAYS bored when paying attention or when sitting…but there are still times when I am. Even when paying attention. I am aware of what boredom feels like in my body. I definitely pay attention to THAT, but it is still boredom nonetheless. What about that afore mentioned laundry or other household chores. Can you truly say that it is never boring even when paying attention to those things? If I am not letting myself be bored, then I am usually distracting myself with something, even if it is with my own thoughts. But maybe that is just me.

    I have a poem about boredom…perhaps I should post it on WordBlood…or it can be found on my blog if anyone is iinterested.

    P.S. I am glad to be back.

  6. Luis Avatar

    Darn, this is really boring.
    What is the value of boredom?
    Why not having a glass of wine
    and enjoying the pleasure of the senses
    while knowing that all is for not?
    Why not a friend or two
    to share bread and a good story?
    Boring…sitting for hours…boring…
    Break this one…break it.
    See boredom.
    Know that death is around the corner
    coming dressed all in black
    and dancing with yellow butterflies.
    Now let us have a happy and boring smile
    while pretending that we are more holy
    than a cow….Muuuuuuuuuuuuu!

  7. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    “What is the value of boredom?”

    Are you sure that’s the right question?

  8. frank jude Avatar

    Hi “Sometimes,”

    I want to be clear that I do know boredom (wrote a song in high school called “Bored and Aimless”) and do experience it. It’s just that whenever I do feel boredom, it seems to be related to my weakened attention.

    As you ask specifically regarding laundry and other household chores, my reply is “yes, most definitely, it’s only if I lose attention and begin acting mechanically that I might fall into boredom.” In fact, I savor the opportunity to really just do one thing; that is, when I fold laundry, I cannot be doing anything else like responding to email or cooking dinner. Folding laundry, washing dishes etc are the times I am least likely to find myself becoming bored; I am intrigued by each detail of the folding, for instance. (I might add that my wife is delighted about this as SHE doesn’t care much for folding!) I’m more likely to feel boredom while reading certain texts or listening to a lecture and when I do become aware of that feeling of boredom, in that moment I recognize that I’ve indeed lost my attention; my mind has wandered from the text/lecture. But when I’m really reading/listening, boredom is not present.

    A long time ago, it was suggested to me (by someone having NOTHING to do with buddhism or meditation) that if I found myself feeling bored, I was not paying attention, and I’ve investigated that hypothesis in my own life and found it true. I mean, I’ve even watched paint dry for about an hour and it was really interesting.

    I smiled when you mentioned playing Barbie with your 7-year old. We’ve got a 22-month old at home and she LOVES balloons. Yesterday, we were occupied and having fun for close to 80 minutes with one balloon! I’d blow it up and then let it go whizzing through the room. And yes, after the 30th time I did find myself feeling a bit bored. When I reflected on what I was experiencing, I clearly saw that my attention had weakened and that I’d been lulled by the apparent repetition of the action. When I brought my full attention to the next “flight,” the boredom was nowhere to be felt/found. When the balloon popped, we just went onto the next game, building block towers.

    Oh! I notice you posted a link to your poem! Gonna read it now.

  9. frank jude Avatar


    Just read your poem and really like it. I’m wondering, could it be that what you describe IS the act of noticing you weren’t really paying attention to what you were doing and thus you felt bored? AND then when you stopped and took that breath, the boredom dissolved BECAUSE you had regained your attention? I’m curious.


  10. sometimes Avatar

    Frank — Thank you for reading my poem, even for enjoying it. I get what you are saying. And yes, to some extent there is a noticing and an attention that can change what boredom looks and feels like. And yes, reveling in boredom may not serve me well. In other words, noticing and paying attention to details around me are a good idea.

    I just tend to hitch up when I hear any system of belief, practice, etc…attempting to denegrate a human reaction. Boredom is a reaction, and one I think that may be unavoidable. Yes, we can notice it, pay attention, and perhaps the experiencing of boredom can even itself become NOT boring. But I wonder if boredom is just a normal human vacillation. I have a hard time when a normal human reaction gets shoved into the category of being a sign that we are not “far enough along on the path.” That is my only hesitation. I think there is a fine line between noticing/observing what state we are in then seeing what changes happen because of the noticing, and trying to change what comes up because it may be seen as an undesirable human trait.

    That’s all. Not a complete disagreement, just a defense of the human animal. I am okay being a human animal. I do not need to attempt to be non-human, it is a pointless cause anyway (from my humble perspective.)

  11. frank jude Avatar

    Oh! There was no intention to denigrate any aspect of the human animal experience! I am just sharing something I’ve noticed about what I’ve found to be a primary cause or at least correlate to my experience of boredom: it seems to arise when my attention lags or weakens.

    I also do not see this as being about any stages along any path!

  12. sometimes Avatar

    Point well made. Personal experience, human animal, and no path. All ideas that I can get behind. Not that me getting behind any particular point is requested, needed, or even desired here. “And yet…” to quote the author of this post.

  13. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    It will not end. I read the this text like this. It will not end. It is a lie to say it ended. It is the very drive which keeps us alive. To say it ended is to say I die.

    Boredom is the one point the war-machine of marketing uses to enslave the human. If we wouldn’t be bored capitalism wouldn’t work. To understand boredom is to pull the plug. Billions of eyes staring at tv-screens – revolution could happen if we would realize boredom. Capitalism would be destroyed in a moment if we truly would be bored. No more hope. No more nice shit. No more liars telling shit about a better future. A blank stare at what life is – and what it in reality is for most of us on this planet: Real shit happening every boring moment at every corner in every mega-slum around the globe. Real shit with the man at the traffic-light holding up a sign “Homeless – everything will do”. I am a liar, I am not awakened until I pull the trigger and shoot this surrogate life in the face. I hate myself for my own lies about attention, being right there, understanding something.

    The truth of hunger is the ultimate weapon if boredom is realized. Truly bored people would do nothing. The murderous life destroying machine is helpless if I look it into its anti-human eyes and pull the plug. Literally. I don’t need you any more. I could even kill myself. No occupy, no buy and bye bye to nothingness. Non-ultimate boredom. The anti-climax of no-w-here being bored. La mort de La Grande Bouffe.

  14. Danny Avatar

    Nice work, Adam. Of course now the expression, “bored shitless” will never make sense again.

    As a woodworker, I will say some of my best ideas come in periods of complete boredom; doodling on a page, gazing at a blank wall, summer afternoons lying on my back in the grass vaporizing clouds…

    “The life of a creator is not the only life nor perhaps the most interesting which a man leads. There is a time for play and a time for work, a time for creation and a time for lying fallow. And there is a time, glorious too in its own way, when one scarcely exists, when one is a complete void. I mean — when boredom seems the very stuff of life.” ~Henry Miller

  15. Robert Avatar

    Hard to be bored when you don’t know how you will feed your children today, problematic to shit on an empty stomach.

  16. sometimes Avatar

    Yes, Robert you are right. Perhaps boredom is a priviledge of an affluent society. I would have to agree as I look back on my own childhood. While suffering, boredom was far removed. Thanks for bringing it back down to reality a little bit. I should be grateful for the boredom that I find. Embrace it even, for it means that I have enough to allow boredom to exist. Perhaps boredom is even the wrong word.

  17. Alan Avatar

    Sometimes, I was thinking the same thing about maybe “boredom” not being the right word. What might the right word be? I’m not sure. I agree with some of the ideas in this essay and comments, but they don’t seem to me to be about boredom. I wouldn’t agree with the definition of boredom in the third noble truth in the essay. I move increasingly toward the cessation of hope, but I don’t experience that as boredom. Samuel Beckett, more than any writer I know, explores the cessation of hope. His characters are in the most untenable positions, the most helpless, hopeless, repetitive, pathetic circumstances (crawling through mud, being confined to small spaces, being unable to find their way) of human existence. In fact, those circumstances ARE human existence. But the characters are not bored. Neither is the reader, for that matter, though the experience of reading Beckett is at times excruciating.

    While I don’t disagree with the characterization of shitting and its implications in this essay, it seems rather simplistic. Yes, physically shitting is a letting go, but psychologically it’s much more than that. For example, an interesting take on Luther’s epiphany while shitting is offered by Norman O. Brown in his chapter in LIFE AGAINST DEATH called “The Protestant Era.” I won’t go into it at length since it may be getting off topic, but here is a short excerpt:

    “Other anal weapons employed by Luther in his fight with the Devil–
    my language is here refined more than Luther’s–are injunctions to
    ‘lick (or kiss) my posteriors’ or to ‘defecate in his pants and hang them
    round his neck,’ and threats to ‘defecate in his face’ or to ‘throw him
    into my anus, where he belongs.’”

    Shit as weapon.

    Regarding the second Wallace passage quoted above, try a little ulcerative colitis and see how long the wait is.

  18. jonckher Avatar

    #14 Matthias

    Gah, all this talk about boredom being some pre-requisite for revolution.

    I disagree!

    Boredom is background low-level bodily agitation. Boredom is perpetual mind-body static. Boredom results in addiction to stimulus after stimulus.

    People will more likely eat too much, take drugs, gossip, have mindless sex etc to get away from boredom than to rise up and revolt.

    One of the things meditation does is make one more aware of the static and hence hopefully less reactive to it. Couple this with Dr Pepper’s insight into one’s ideology and a defined moral purpose, perhaps more political engagement can then occur.

    Otherwise: eat, shit, fuck, play farmville, repeat until death.

  19. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hi Jonckher,

    you say: “Boredom results… to get away from boredom” etc. So what is that from what you want to get away, what is that which leads to a certain result?

    Boredom results in addiction.” Really? Necessarily? Maybe it is simply misused. Why not staying bored instead of getting away from it via addiction, via buying the next useless piece of shit? Perhaps learning to be bored is the main point not to become addicted?

    re “Revolution”: Perhaps I confused it with revulsion. I come back to this. I am in maximum-bored-mode right now.

  20. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Boredom seems to be such a simple term, we think we should all know what it means; however, it is clear that it is used to refer to widely different experiences, with very different causes. Maybe the question is not whether boredom is the right word, but which kind of boredom we mean?

    College students tend to say “boring” when what they mean is that they don’t understand something, or that it tells them something they don’t want to hear or don’t already know. As Deleuze somewhere says, we must be forced to think, and our word for that necessity today is often “boring.”

    Then there is the kind of boredom that Fenichel talks about, his psychoanalytic theory of boredom, which refers to our desire to do something which is blocked or denied by the social formation. We are bored because we are more than support for a digestive tract, and when we are in a situation in which we have enough to eat, we have shelter and clothing and food, we want to do more, to interact with the world beyond mere necessity, in meaningful ways (where “meaningful” means both socially produced and allowing for greater interaction with the mind-independent world). I would say that boredom should not introduce us to the mere digestive, bodily basis of human life, but to the fact that we can be much more than this, and that it is our nature as human animals to do much more than we need to. When this nature is blocked, we suffer, we are bored. We live on a planet right now where there is an enormous amount of work to be done, but no “jobs.” We are told we should accept less, learn not to crave and need and desire, we should learn to let go of our attachments to things–but what about our craving to DO SOMETHING meaningful? We should not be forced to “let go” of that, and sit in mindful contemplation of our tea cups.

    Then there is the boredom that is really just a word for the transformation of this natural tendency to DO into a craving to HAVE more commodities. We learn that when we feel this dissatisfaction, this restlessness, we must fill it with another pre-made, commercially available commodity. This is the twisted version of boredom that leads so often to addiction: we learn to stop boredom with artificial pleasures instead of bodily and mental efforts. Even those bodily and mental efforts we are “allowed” to make are turned inward, to perfecting the body through exercise and contemplating our own minds–using the body and mind to investigate and change the world is seen as a pathology in our culture.

    One important lesson from sitting is that we must never think that we should reduce our life to the “most basic”, when that is taken to mean just eating, shitting, reproducing (this conception is, I would argue, an effect of the remains of the Christian ideology that has been the major source of social control for many centuries in the West: we must just tolerate boredom and the bare minimum of bodily needs until our soul is released to its heavenly reward). We should learn that we are inherently much more than organs that seek to reproduce themselves, but this “more” is not a soul that cannot be satisfied with earthly life–it is our ability to escape our animal needs and enjoy! So I guess I would disagree that boredom is the persistence of hunger beyond the need for food. When we think this is all it is, we are failing to see what sitting still and thinking can actually show us: that we, collectively, as social and ideological animals, are more than, or other than, the physical perpetuation of some random chain of macromolecules. One thing sitting can do is to help us sort out what we are really experiencing when we say we are bored: what kind of boredom is it?

  21. Robert Avatar

    Re 21. May I offer one more kind of boredom? This is the one that risks becoming the non-buddhist variety, allowing us, as Zizek puts it, to retain “an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being”.

  22. robertdevet Avatar

    Re 22. What I mean is boredom as a philosophical stance, as a desirable mental state. The similarities with buddhism are uncanny. It is a realization, gained through meditation, and it is privileged, in the sense that ordinary people wouldn’t understand. And as I tried to say in comment 21, the results are every bit as reactionary as the understandings reached by our x-buddhist brothers and sisters.

  23. Tom Pepper Avatar

    I agree, Robert, that cultivating boredom as a desirable mental state is the ultimate reactionary ideology-it is, as Zizek often reminds us, the prevalent ideology of global capitalism, most commonly called postmodernism. We are supposed to believe we have no ideology, that history is at an end, that everything is ironic, that there are only bodies and truths–except there is that “innermost kernel of our being.” Any time anyone suggest an “inner being” that remains unaffected by politics, economics, culture, we can be sure their politics are reactionary.

    It is odd that this is exactly the most typical form of x-buddhist teaching in the west–in a complete rejection of the concepts of anatman and pratityasamutpada, we are told that we have a world-transcendent consciousness, a true “buddhanature”, that must remain indifferent to and detached from the world. It differs from the philosophical stance only in that it rejects both sides of the aesthetic divide; we must reject the body and the mind, not political activism and also no thought is allowed. We must only feel, because emotion is the entire content of the world-transcendent consciousness. Somehow, we are pure emotion, feeling which contains no thought, and is thoroughly non-directed, non-intentional, not feeling about anything, just feeling.

    Debunking these ideologies might risk becoming a new version of “boredom,” but only if we delude ourselves that we can ever be outside of ideology, living in some kind of purportedly pure perception of the real. The debunking and demystifying is only useful if it enables us to more easily produce useful ideologies by organizing social practices in which to encourage and enable change. We must not stop with the debunking, but we do need to start there.

  24. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Why not take the middle part of this tryptichon as is? Immanent reading.


    [Boredom] is the revelation of hunger’s character, the revelation that nothing will ever be enough.


    Ignorance (not without reason) dreads this boredom and shuns its revelation.

    Isn’t the text clearly stating what boredom it talks about? Isn’t the constant need to explain the very drug to flee boredom?

    I find this composition a most creative piece. It reminds my of a meaning which is to be found in the german translation of the english “boredom” – Langeweile. I don’t know if “boredom” transfers any of the connotations which come with the second part of the german word: Weile – a while, a time; passing time, the passing as passing.

    Some lines above the first citation Wallace’ protagonist says his trainer showed him to be aware of attention itself. He describes a certain kind of clarity. Here we have it: A writer who describes the simple fact of being highly alert. Wallace describes in fact the praxis of being right there on the spot.

    Is this meditation? No. Non-buddhist schmu? No. Ideologically induced ignorance? No. It is a clear phenomenological description of attention as attention.

    Let attention be boredom.

  25. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #25: The question is, why is the realization that just satisfying our bodily needs, or even indulging them to excess, is “not enough”, labelled “boredom”? That is where the ideology enters. We need to be aware that this is an ideology, that we could just as easily label this phenomenon “motivation” or “exuberance” or something. To call it boredom subtly implies that we should be satisfied with just meeting our basic needs, that our real bliss is in another world. Instead, we could produce an ideology in which we realize that boredom results from being denied the opportunity to fulfill our conatus.

  26. Robert Avatar

    Of course this philosophy of boredom has its inner logic, its inner validity, and even offers some kind of valid critique of our society, e.g. consumerism, a constant need for new entertainment and distraction, what have you. Note that x-buddhism offers a similar critique. Note also that non-buddhism so far is just as powerless as x-buddhism to understand its societal root causes, let alone what to do about it. This is where boredom as a philosophical stance falls short. Boredom and engagement are mutually exclusive, you cannot be both bored and engaged. Keep in mind that boredom tends to be all-pervasive rather than selective. In a state of boredom everything is boring, including the notion of doing something about it.

    Contrast the notion of boredom with the notion of injustice. At the very best boredom will lead to a personal understanding/liberation, and that’s it, big deal, nothing changes. Seeing injustice however has historically been a catalyst for change, much that is good about our world is the result of people seeing injustice, getting angry rather than bored, and collectively demanding change.

    Non-buddhism holds promise, because of its radical methodology and its aim to return to what makes us human. Part of what makes us human is to be political, and we all know that the political space desperately needs this new methodology, this “thinking of new thoughts” we like to brag about. So why this desire to essentially replicate x-buddhism by chasing boredom rather than bliss?

  27. Matthias Steingass Avatar


    To call it boredom subtly implies that we should be satisfied with just meeting our basic needs, that our real bliss is in another world.

    I don’t agree. It is again a question what meaning we give a word.


    why this desire to essentially replicate x-buddhism?

    I am getting a bit tired of this constant accusation.

    Being bored – what ever it means – is a replication of x-buddhism?

    I think we should be careful not to cultivate a kind of discussion here where creativity constantly meets a kind of ominous warning that something somehow could be wrong.

    “Boredom” in Adam’s text, I think, is a metaphor. Except from some earlier comments I see no treatment of Adam’s text itself. I see no creative answer to a creative text.

    Are we becoming stale here?

  28. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    The Bored: A thought experiment

    Imagine becoming bored. Imagine you wander the streets, the malls, the supermarkets, the internet and you become more and more bored with the junk sold to you. Imagine you become bored with the next iphone, the next car, the next blogbuster, the next whatever. Imagine you stop buying it. Imagine you stop consuming. Imagine you begin fulfilling only your basic needs: Food, shelter, clothing. Imagine how in this way your consumer spending is drastically cut.

    Imagine you inspire other people. Other people wandering the streets, the malls, the supermarket, the internet becoming more and more bored. Bored with the gaudy rubbish only being good until the next stupid ‘edition’. Imagine more and more people sitting, standing, walking in the malls of the planet with uninterested eyes, with minds indifferent. Imagine more and more people not spending any more – not buying it anymore.

    Imagine this becoming a movement. At first one percent, then two, three, five, ten, twenty. Imagine this just for the sake of the experiment. And remember that the economy needs the consumer spending. Remember that the economy needs growing. Remember that fiscal deficit is only manageable as long as the economy is growing.

    Now calculate at what point the economy stops growing because of the bored? At what point the bored become a threat to the system? And ask: would the system tolerate the bored? Would it tolerate that they do not spend anymore?

    My conclusion from this abstraction is that it can not tolerate it. If so, it would crash.

    The conclusion is that consuming is a political constraints. A movement like the one described could not be tolerated. It must be forbidden. Laws would be implemented to sanction those propagating boredom.

    It follows from this that if consumer spending isn’t done voluntary, it must be forced. (Perhaps it is already forced, who knows?)

    It follows from this that we are not free to decide every course of peaceful action. It follows that (this) boredom is not simply a stupid passive action – that it is instead a powerful possibility to make visible the contradiction we live.

    P.S. Jonckher: That’s what I meant with “revolution” – and, of course, it will never happen.

  29. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 29: Of course consumer spending is “already forced.” When we won’t buy the crappy cars the U.S. car companies make, laws are passed to force us to give them money in exchange for nothing, and it is called a corporate bailout. The rich must stay rich, and if we won’t spend, we will simply be taxed. Ensuring the transfer of money from the poor to the rich is the function of the state in a capitalist system.

    Of course what you are talking about here, Matthias, is one specific definition of boredom, boredom with something particular, indifference to a particular thing or activity, the way I may say I am “bored” by the six o’clock murder-and-fire reports. This is boredom only in the sense of being more interested in something else. As in, I’m not interested in the newest iphone apps, I’m more interested in producing a world in which people can use all of their abilities, not just exercise the agility of their thumbs. This inability to use our abilities, the desire to DO SOMETHING in a social formation which forbids it, is the kind of boredom I have in mind. What, you want to do some productive work, build something, grow some food, create a work of art? You can’t, there are no jobs–just sit and watch reality tv until the economy gets better.

  30. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert #28, Matthias #29, and Tom #30.

    Just a few thoughts. But first, back to the text.

    The third noble truth is that you can realize the truth of hunger through boredom. Boredom is what happens when need temporarily ceases but hunger persists. Boredom is the restless persistence of hunger beyond satiety. It is the revelation of hunger’s character, the revelation that nothing will ever be enough. In boredom, the gears keep grinding though the drive train is no longer engaged.

    Boredom is the failure of all plotting, of every project and plan and ideology. Boredom is sitting, full of shit, with the worm that still turns. Boredom is hunger revealed as such, stripped of its hope for cessation. Boredom is the cessation of hope.

    I think boredom, as expressed here, can be understood as a deflated version of the classical-buddhist value of disenchantment (nibbida). Some wily old editor put in The Protagonist’s mouth the claim that you ain’t going nowhere until you disabuse yourself of the fantasy that there’s somewhere to be gotten to. Of course, the fact that this idea, as buddheme, is run together with numerous others that contradict it, or flatten it, or otherwise disable it, renders it impotent as a human truth (while energizing it as an ideological mechanism). Adam’s third noble truth re-humanizes this truth. I understand the truth to be about the affective response to the (conscious or unconscious) recognition of the inescapable monotonous patterning of personal and social existence. Benjamin or someone said something to the effect that boredom is our index to participation in the sleep of the collective. That makes sense. I don’t see how anyone can refute the claim that everything–relationships, planets, work routines, perspectives, habits–inevitably falls into a pattern. And it does seem to be the case that patterns persist even once the “need” that initiated them weakens or even vanishes. The biologically-driven (?) pattern of hunger, want, and longing persist even when there’s no obvious need.

    So why this desire to essentially replicate x-buddhism by chasing boredom rather than bliss?

    I would use a different metaphor. Boredom lies perpetually in wait. And, as Adam indicates, it seems to be intimately bound up in a human truth. Maybe Heidegger was right about its being a sort of portal into authenticity, or into recognition of a human truth.

    Boredom and engagement are mutually exclusive, you cannot be both bored and engaged.

    Boredom doesn’t necessarily entail depression or apathy, does it? I see it as a signal that I have to take some action. The nature and extent of my action will determine the degree of (always temporary, it seems) boredom-alleviation. That’s one reason that I believe in the necessity of decisive action, including radical, threatening, and even destructive actions. At the end of the action is something new–for a moment. Then new patterns form. So then new actions must be performed. Because of what Adam says, this process lasts as long as my life.

    I agree that we are already forced to spend. It’s the kind of force that you, Matthias, talk about with “culture of control,” isn’t it? Just read, look at, or watch an advertisement with the suspicion that it is out and out manipulating you to desire something. Advertising feels to me like an obscene molestation of the personal-social want machine.

    I am also wondering about the relationship between boredom with objects (Matthias) and the boredom that Tom describes as the “inability to use our abilities, the desire to DO SOMETHING in a social formation which forbids it.” Maybe they’re just different aspects of the same phenomenon. Much of my boredom has to do with the fact that my society has decided that ipads rather than oil paintings are worth staring at for hours on end. And that decision, of course, entails many others that impact my life. It’s important for that reason to create alternative communities–ones that value different objects and actions.

    My last thought is that contemporary x-buddhist communities are not helping matters. Whether they preach enlightenment or mindfulness, x-buddhism is an ideology of acquiescence. That acquiescence has many masks: bare awareness, letting go, non-judgmentalism, equanimity, right speech, compassion, acceptance, and so on. But it’s through and through an ideology of letting be. Boredom? Just attend to it mindfully. It will pass.

  31. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Of course there are different forms or meanings of “boredom”. One thing I like about it is that it can be seen as a sin…. and that it at once causes protest.

    Accidentally I found a very interesting article: “In praise of boredom

    Take a look for example at the pages 399 and following.

    Boredom, Brodsky proposes, is to be embraced as a natural human experience, if only as the precursor to something better. Boredom provides a space for contemplating things of desire, things to strive for. Nonetheless, these things, if achieved, will only give a transient satisfaction, because, he argues, boredom cannot be cured. (p. 401)

    I think we have here, with Adam’s text and this thread, a chance to think about praxis in a way which is unspoilt by x-buddhist thinking.

  32. Danny Avatar

    A jaded Basho
    Flings his pen into the pond
    Shits in the tall grass.

  33. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Glenn, re # 31 … and more general

    “Forced to spend”, to consume, to take part in numberless undertakings which structure life, emotion, moral values – without being aware that the alternatives we are presented with aren’t really alternatives – it looks like freedom but isn’t. That I would say could be described as the cultures/societies of control.

    But it is not only advertisement which transports and generates desires, it is the whole communication structure we live which induce every norm we live by. In contrast to historical periods prior to this, the norms we live by are no longer experienced as forced upon us. Norms today feel like they are met voluntarily.

    One great example is Marl Zuckerberg’s call for “one identity”. With this call comes the new law of transparency. Everybody ‘has’ to present every detail of his life openly. What only thirty years ago would have met great resistance because of its resemblance of an Orwellian nightmare is today greeted as a great feature of modern world. That is the difference.

    Parallel to this the exploitation of labor power is replaced by the exploitation of creativity and attention. Where capitalism domesticated, controlled and exploited the labor power during its ascent in the 19th century, today it manipulates more directly the psychic agency of the human. Discipline in the 19th century meant being forced into a hierarchy which one couldn’t leave (family, army, gender etc.). Today we are more or less able to freely change, leave or reconstruct these playgrounds of social evolution but the norms, the structuring patterns, which govern these freedoms are transmitted without them being recognized as specific patterns which could be changed. They come as natural and sufficient. They emerge in consciousness as natural thoughts. “Freedom” is “of course” something natural to the human. But which freedom? On a global scale the contradiction to the notion of natural freedom which is given by nature to every human is easy to see: freedom is for those who have the power to exploit the resources to support their freedom. From within our society of control it is much more difficult to see a contradiction within this game. But I think the thought experiment in #29 shows that there is a contradiction: we are not free to leave.

    Samsara becomes simply the endless self-reproduction of a World, which always requires the closing off of the appearance of something new, the foreclosure of some truths, and so is always a source of suffering. Reproducing our existing ideologies, as if they were the goal instead of the means, is the source of the suffering of subjects. (cf. Tom Pepper’s “Naturalizing Buddhism” p. 12)

    But the exploitation of creativity means that every creative move to fight the exploitation of attention by the marketing forces of consumer capitalism is transformed into something marketable. That is the great force of consumer capitalism that it is able to even transform its adversaries into supporters (China is the greatest example of this capability and because the Chines communists recognized this, they are probably the most dangerous force on the globe).

    But perhaps a bit thinking about nibbida is a chance to break this spell/charm temporally at some places in some areas. Perhaps nibbida seen as disenchantment or more strongly as disgust or revulsion is a turning away, a prerequisite of a more powerful move.

    Boredom is what happens when need temporarily ceases but hunger persists. Boredom is the restless persistence of hunger beyond satiety. It is the revelation of hunger’s character, the revelation that nothing will ever be enough.

    Perhaps it is a two step move. What shall we do when we realize that the fact that nothing will ever be enough is used by marketing to feed us constantly with new ‘goods’? Perhaps the answer to this question is revulsion – nibbida. Samsara, as in Tom’s re-definition becomes visible as endless cycles of bullshit brought to us by consumer capitalism. What happens when we realize that the cycle leads always to the same outcome – new hunger – a hunger which will never cease? For the addicted the next product will suffice (for a while), but for some boredom could ensue. True boredom – the restless persistence of hunger beyond satiety. No way around it. No hope. But also no fear to miss the next big thing.

    This all (btw Robert) concerns non-buddhism itself. Non-buddhism itself will be consumed by capitalism – if ever it becomes more than a temporary quibble. It is therefore a hopeless undertaking. It will be of no use other than a temporary disturbance. A de-centering. A healthy shock at best which will be sucked up, before long, at the next corner as the next fad for »Fats« Terminal

    the translucent foetal, with suckers on his little soft, purple-grey hands, and a lamprey disk mouth of cold, grey gristle lined with hollow black erectile teeth, feeling for the scar patterns of junk… in his wake of addicts translucent-grey monkeys flashed like fish spears to the junk Mark and hung there sucking and it all drained back into Fats so his substance grew and grew, filling plazas, restaurants and waiting rooms of the world with grey junk ooze. (William Burroughs, the algebra of need, in: Naked Lunch)

    “Societies of control” is a term introduced by Gilles Deleuze. The term develops furthers Foucault’s term “societies of discipline”. The term “control” Deleuze takes over from Burroughs whose texts constantly deal with the permanent threat of systems of control. Zuckerbergs Facebook in this sense is the “new monster” which is no longer recognized as a threat. The opposite is true, while devouring us, draining it all back into »Fats«, while our very attention is put to production of more capital, to prolong the life of an invisible global elite of billionaires of which Mark the »Fats« Zuckerberg is only a subservient little creature, while we are sucked empty and thrown away, expiring lifetime and put to decomposition – nothing ever resembles anymore the ugly monsters of the past, instead everything is happiness, full of colors, cool and nothing to be disturbed about. This is control,

    “the algebra of need”, the capitalistic reality, the dependence of the masses of people on “products”, whose distribution is monopolized by a minority and which they distribute only in such dosages that the consumer in the best of cases never happens to become really satisfied [did some body mentioned the iPhone?] but becomes at worst paranoid and a public danger [remember London Burning 2011?]. (cf. Marvin Chlada, Denken mit dem rosaroten Panther, in: Das Universum des Gilles Deleuze; my translation)

  34. […] den Kommentaren zum Beitrag “Sitting, Full of Shit (Übersetzung erscheint später auf Der Unbuddhist) entspann sich eine Diskussion zum Thema […]

  35. Kommentare zu “Sitting, Full of Shit” von Adam Miller « Kritikos & Bodhi Avatar

    […] den Kommentaren zum Beitrag “Sitting, Full of Shit (Übersetzung erscheint später auf Der Unbuddhist) entspann sich eine Diskussion zum Thema […]

  36. Sitzen, Voll Scheisse « Der Unbuddhist Avatar

    […] Übersetzung des Textes von Adam S. Miller aus dem Englischen  Matthias Steingass. Das englische Original findet sich hier => Sitting, Full of Shit […]

  37. jere14 Avatar

    I have learned a lot about boredom from this thread. Thank you. i feel sorry for Buddhists who engage with boredom for minutes to hours and day thinking it will lead to something good or useful. I wonder how many long-time sincere Buddhists ever wake up to the fact of how much they have cheated themselves out of living with various acetic practices that lead nowhere. I consider long-term Buddhist practice to be a self-imposed tragedy.

  38. "Phra" Michael Avatar

    @ Jere14 and those sharing his opinion:
    Coming into this discussion a little late, i just want to make a short but clear statement: Saying what Jere14 says equals talking about a fruit never tasted. Prof Miller hasn’t got the faintest idea of what he is talking about, which can be seen in his ignorance of Dependent Origination. Noone who hasn’t had at least some knowledge and vision of Dependent Origination, the basic principle od buddhist teaching, can give a half-way reasonable statement about Buddhist practice and the basic idea behind it. I myself feel sorry for those who ignore that in psycho-therapy loads of the insight of the Buddha can be found.
    Half-knowledge is, here again, the direct way of blaming ONE path (perhaps not the only one) to the cessation of suffering.

    May You all be happy and free from suffering :o)
    Metta (Loving-kindness) 2 U
    “Phra” Michael
    PS: Boredom is the direct opposite of buddhist practicte !!

  39. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    re #39:

    Boredom is the direct opposite of buddhist practicte!!

    I really hope so, really!

  40. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    “The periods of transition that separate consecutive adaptations …represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious, and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being.”

    Beckett on Proust via Alan.

  41. jere14 Avatar

    #39. I stand by my words. I have been to enough sanghas to see the pervasive suffering and especially confusion that abounds. Why did Sensei Rappaport liken a Buddhist monastery to a dysfunctional family? The only aspect of Buddhism that I see helpful is residing in difficult emotions such as proscribed by Joko Beck. Every Buddhist student, teacher, or author will run from such a practice, no one else other than Ezra Bayda even mentions it. Buddhism considers itself an ultimate healing technology but so much is based on very old psychological principles. Buddhism has largely ignored modern Somatic and Self psychologies that have worked out means of healing emotional problems. As far as “tasting the fruit”, from my perspective such is either a lie or a hallucination. How can you have an enlightened teacher with not one student that has made any tangible advances, this is not uncommon in many sanghas. Such teachers come into practice with no advantages, and suddenly they are enlightened and stand apart from every else. Something is wrong here on the face of it. The false depiction of ones enlightenment and proclamation that others can obtain it if they are your students is no less than criminal in my mind.

  42. Craig Avatar

    I always found zazen to be utter boredom and nausea inducing. Seriously.

    42: My experience is that teachers are geniuses at tiptoeing around emotions and/or manipulative of them…hence the enlightened teacher with no progeny. that being said, i read a quote by joke beck that she had students she was finished with. i guess they ‘got it’…Ezra got it and then Joko decided he didn’t 🙂 so arbitrary these enlightened ones.

  43. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #42: Self psychology, Ezra Bayda, Joko Beck are all producing ideologies meant to produce better-functioning capitalist subjects. Sometimes, they even succeed. This would be fine if they always began with “this is just for the fortunate and wealthy; we will teach you to adjust your subjectivity to be a properly functioning capitalist subject unbothered by thought, truth, or the suffering of the billions who produce your wealth and privilege; if you want to understand truth or to see reality as it is, this is not the teaching for you, we deal only in delusion and emotions.” How many followers would they have if they did this? But only and ideology that can admit it is an ideology is capable of reducing suffering in the world and allowing people to think, and think about the truth. These “enlightened” teachers with no enlightened disciples are in exactly this dilemma: if you reveal to your student that you are producing illusions and calling them truths, she will be “enlightened” too, but will she still accept your teaching? If you don’t know that you are producing ideology and calling it truth, how can you possibly “enlighten” anyone?

  44. Craig Avatar

    Tom (#44):

    Thanks for the comments about the Ordinary Mind folk. They were kind of my last attempt at practice, but it’s been impossible for me to develop any sort of daily practice. I wonder, though, is there a way to practice non-buddhism that has both daily, dare i say, ritual component that cuts directly into the ideology of it all and is empowering one to initiate social change?

    Have you ever heard of Nipponzan Myohoji? They are a monastic order that came out of the Nichiren traditions. Their practices is focused directly in social justice. They walk and they chant. I never really considered practicing buddhism until i saw them at a school of the americas protest. pretty cool, i thought. they’ve focused a lot on nuclear proliferation as well. They seem to have a daily buddhist practice that IS speaking truth to power.

  45. Ananda Avatar


    What so ever a man sits full of
    That will he defecate

    I was just bored to death or bored stiff, I guess! I’m not telling.

    A little wine
    Infused with herbs
    Of a bye gone time

    Break some bread
    And let the fungi
    Tickle your head

    A Eucharist at play
    In a ritual day
    As this and that
    Lost its way

    O to wish
    That I was bored
    A notion
    So self absorbed

    Then I could
    Finally be
    Something other
    Than me

  46. sometimes Avatar

    Ananda, nice work. 🙂

  47. Bartek Avatar

    I think there is many type of boredom. Mayby it depends how people react on boredom.
    In this link is different perspective on the phenomenon of boredom

  48. […] happens instead is that the bliss, the oneness is painted as the goal and there people remain, sitting in shit as Adam Miller once […]

  49. To be, or not to be…an x-Buddhist? Buddhemes and charism | Post-Traditional Buddhism Avatar

    […] happens instead is that the bliss, the oneness is painted as the goal and there people remain, sitting in shit as Adam Miller once […]

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