These Cunning Fetters

I’ve often felt in the past that that I would be a better person if I could free myself from my desires. After all, most great religions I’ve studied seem to imply that one of the first steps in attaining enlightenment is to free oneself from desire, particularly sexual desire.

As I’ve aged, in fact, I’ve comforted myself with the idea that as my sex appeal declined my desires also declined. Ideally, it seemed to me that the two would meet at the very point where pure enlightenment compensated for the fact that no woman in her right mind would even consider sleeping with me.

Recently, though, my doctor has begun to prescribe medicines that have completely killed what little sexual desire I had left, drugs meant to block male testosterone, as well as female hormones meant to further suppress a recently discovered cancer.

Unfortunately, enlightenment has not followed as swiftly as I had hoped. In fact, all I’ve been feeling lately is a strange sense of loss and self-alienation. Perhaps these are merely the first signs of enlightenment. If so, enlightenment may not be all I’ve wished it to be.

Such cunning fetters
freed from these desires
I long for their return.

20 thoughts on “These Cunning Fetters”

  1. From what I understand, you do not ^want^ to lose the production of testosterone etc, even in the most esoterically asexual traditions. You want to sublimate that energy towards a spiritual life. To cut it off is to cut off what is part of the ‘spiritual’ equation, in my understanding (which is, admittedly, grounded in a specific cross of traditions). Think of it this way: let’s say someone has a high credit card debt, and decides the best way to pay it off is to stop buying so much junk. Well, getting laid off may result in them spending less on junk, but the net effect will ^not^ help them pay off their credit card debt.

    Like anything in life, ‘enlightenment’ is not a binary situation. Freeing yourself from desires shouldn’t be a matter of cutting things off, at its root, but of understanding where those desires come from and resolving those impulses into their spiritual essences, thus freeing you from the compulsion of desire. Depending on which tradition you follow.

    Hope this helps.

  2. Damn, and damn. Damn, first, about your health situation. Cancer isn’t a welcome guest in any circumstance. And damn, second, because you’ve verbalized something that I think has been going on with me. A feeling of wanting to have, or missing, a desire that I think should still be there, even at 50. I’ve just recently had my “50,000 mile” physical, and everything was great – cholesterol, PSA, all those numbers, were well within the range you want those numbers to inhabit. I don’t feel 50, I feel 35, except that sex seems to have become more “so what” than I’m ready for. Such cunning fetters, for sure.

    But I love the Santas you carved!

  3. Sounds like a seventies bumper sticker:

    “Enlightenment is not all it’s cracked up to be!”

    Alas, though, I am sorry for your loss and discomfort. I can certainly identify. As Bette Davis said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Yipes. And here I am, a sissy of the first water!

  4. Whew. Yes, the fetters may be made of desire, but that’s not what they *are.* They’re habits of mind, and robbed of one stuff, for a home, they’ll just inhabit another. Though I wish you could have had a less jarring way of experiencing that truth.

    I know, I too have looked forward to getting older as a sort of automatic escape from these particular nets, only to find — that no, it doesn’t quite work that way. Doesn’t work that way at all, in fact.

    (Cool Santas, by the way!)

    (And hey, I finally found my way here!)

  5. Actually, this was written as a sort of tongue-in-cheek way of telling my regular readers that I’ve been diagnosed with another form of cancer, one that will obviously have some near-term consequences for me but hopefully can be cured with an operation. I guess if James Brown can let it be known that he has it, so can I.

    On another level, it was an attempt to write a haibun, something I’ve been wanting to try to write.

    It also introduces another theme here of myself as cancer survivor, something I’ve been for over 20 years now and have alluded to but never quite articulated.

    I’ve avoided saying too much about my experiences with cancer because I know very little about it, except for what I’ve needed to learn personally. I don’t want to be linked to by Google as some sort of “expert” on the topic when all I really am is a survivor who has learned to cope with the problems that accompany this dis-ease.

    If the fact that it is possible to come to terms with cancer, and, in some ways to even make it a positive experience can help others cope with it, then I’d like to share that with others who need to hear that.

    P.S. This is not to say that I haven’t felt all of this feelings at one time as I’ve grown older. It was the “enlightenment” that I was joking about. Those who’ve been reading my blog a long time will remember that Yeats is one of my favorite poets, the “Crazy Jane” sequence is my favorite sequence, and “The Wild Old Wicked Man” is one of my favorite poems.

  6. Well, as a long time reader, I was stunned to read your words, and yes, concerned. But, as usual, I also enjoyed your unique way of introducing the subject, Loren.

  7. Oh, Loren, no!

    Oh my. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling now; I can’t imagine what the diagnosis must have been like. I’m thinking of you. I’m concerned. Please don’t dismiss so easily what you’ve been through already: being a cancer survivor is no small thing. Surely you see that! And I’m sure – I’m positive – that using your marvelous voice to speak here about your experiences will be incredibly helpful to others.

    I’m thinking of you.

  8. I’ve read that all men would die of prostate cancer but they don’t live long enough — something else gets them first, since most prostate camcer is so slow to grow.

    Ron Rosenbaum wrote a fascinating piece about a tour of Mexican alternative cancer treatment cllinics — patients visited about 6 different clinics, and chose what they felt was right for them. The tour guide’s favorite was a woman who asked them “How did they hurt you?” and gave them a brown liquid to drink.

    He asked the tour guide what worked best, and she said it didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was the decision to fight for their lives.

    Desire can be subtle. Life is good.

  9. There are various types of cancer they rate from 1-10, with 1 being relatively harmless and 10 spreading so wildly that there’s little hope of stopping it, Sheila.

    I was hoping for the slow growing kind so I could ignore it, and most of the cancer was a 6 but one section was a 7, which means it’s fairly fast spreading. It’s that one that the doctor was worried about and convinced me that I either needed to get radioactive treatment or have surgery relatively soon.

    Surgery is the most intrusive, but apparently gives me the best chance of completely getting rid of it.

    I still have to wait for the results of several tests before making a final decision.

    Though I’ve never been much of a party animal, I don’t plan on going gently into that good night.

  10. I’m terribly sorry to read this, Loren. You’ll be in my prayers.

    And by the way, I think it says something very positive that in imparting this news, you were also thinking creatively and exploring a new form.

    Good on you!

  11. Oh Loren, I am so sorry to hear your health news. Knowing you for all these years, as I do from your writing, I know that you’ll fight this, not just with strength, but also with your creativity that has brightened this corner of the blogosphere.

  12. Given my family history (cancer is common on both sides), I suspect I will hear similar news some day in the distant future. Certainly, hearing of your experiences will help anyone create a “base” from which to face the possibility of such news. My thoughts are with you.

  13. I’m so sorry to hear of your health troubles. Know that my thoughts are with you, as well. Here’s hoping for a speedy and full recovery.

    And if enlightenment is simply living mindfully, with joy in both the mundane and the essential, then the way in which you’ve broached this topic suggests it may not be as foreign as you think.

  14. Being ‘enlightened’ to your health woes, I’m moving back from Buddhism to Rastafarianism. There’s always a path.

    All men, if they live long enough, are likely to get prostate cancer, not to die from it. It’s far better to go suddenly, such as being shot by a jealous husband when you’re in bed with his wife, in your nineties.

    I send well-wishes your way, Loren, that this will pass with your health fully restored.

  15. Loren, I just discovered your wonderful website, and I pray for you to have

    many more years of
    health and desire–
    and enlightenment

  16. Prayers for both health and enlightenment are headed your way. Or perhaps, if you’ll forgive the double-entendre, health thru enlightenment.

    The strength of our base desires is that they mask the tracks of our higher ones. If you are freed of them, take heart, for the Greater Fire is found “further up and further in”, where you will find ALL desires refined and made new.

  17. The absence of desire doesn’t necessarily lead to enlightenment, though desire’s abatement may help ease the indignity of growing less desirable. Desire reminds you that you’re alive, and desire gratified must be one of the more exquisite pleasures of human existence.

    Our family doctor, trying to calm my worries about my father, told me that any man who lives long enough will develop prostate cancer. That may not be comforting to you.

    I do hope that this news doesn’t overwhelm you. Happiness, humor and companionship: if you have these, you can better your odds before you even begin medical treatment.

    So these are what I wish for you this Xmas.

  18. Loren:

    So sorry to hear the bad news. I’ll keep you in my prayers and check in here from time to time to keep tabs on your new battle with the big C.

    I guess this is the only way I can listen and ‘hold your hand’ electronically.


  19. Hi Loren,

    I’ve given many people your poems. Thanks for writing them.

    I hope you don’t mind me suggesting a book that I think would be of interest to you based on your work here. It is “Illness and culture in a postmodern age” by David Morris. Perhaps you’ve already read it.

    Regarding your most recent medical issue, “I would it were no so, but so it is…”

    With empathy,


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