At the core of each human being rests a heart full of love, tinged with sadness and aching with longing. Some would say this longing points to our awareness of our original separation from a divine source, the knowing that we are all one yet painfully separated from each another because of this form of a body. We ache to merge back into our source, to float in the sea of oneness that is only love. But we can’t quite get there. No matter how much we meditate, create art, sit in nature, or make love, we are offered only momentary tastes of the delicious state of non-duality that defines our essential nature.
Yet there are other kinds of longing. The core longing splits off into tendrils of cousin longings, thinner threads of silk that ripple from heart through body. Longing for a partner. Longing for a baby. Longing for a girl if you have boys or a boy if you have girls. Longing for stability. Longing to lose weight. Longing for youth. Longing for childhood. Longing for acceptance. Longing for approval. Longing for aliveness.
It’s easy to misinterpret longing. True to the superficiality of our culture, we tend to read the signals of longing at face value. And because we are a culture addicted to acting on every feeling that jumps through our veins, we don’t understand that we can hold longing without acting on it. Or that what we think we’re longing for may not be the true longing at all.
Let’s take a common manifestation of longing that arises in my work with people suffering from relationship anxiety: The longing to feel in love. When we strip this longing down to its bare essence, we typically see that it’s a longing for aliveness. Because our culture teaches us to expect our romantic partners to be the sole source of our aliveness, replacing the role of religious experiences in times past, when “that feeling” is absent, we assume we’re in the wrong relationship. If your partner is supposed to be your god or goddess and one day he or she falls from grace into human realm, from where will you derive your sense of aliveness? In other words, once the initial stage of infatuation love-drug wears off, or it was never there to begin with, and you’re not being infused with the ecstatic sense of meaning that being in love engenders, what is your purpose for living?
If you can delve into the stripped-down understanding, you will be asked to take responsibility for your aliveness and purpose. You will be asked to wide-lens your definition of being “in love” and understand that true in-loveness isn’t just about being open-hearted with your partner but about being in love with life. Here’s my definition of being in love, as I wrote in my article, “What Does it Really Mean to Be In Love?“:
The sweet and sometimes subtle joy that springs up from an open heart when the fear walls fall away and you connect to the warm current that runs inside your soul. You can experience this feeling when sitting in nature, gazing at your newborn, or holding hands with your partner. It’s an experience that is born from the fullness of your heart and leads to loving actions in service of others.
The longing to feel in love with other most often points to the longing to feel in love with yourself, with life, and with the infinite. When we dare to read underneath the layers, we’re rewarded with jewels.
I’ll change directions slightly now and share with you a dance with longing that tangoed in my own heart several months ago.
For several weeks, I felt a subtle pang of longing every time a luxury, high-end car passed me. The obvious, first layer interpretation was that I was longing for a nicer car, but I knew immediately that that wasn’t it. I’m not a car person and I’m perfectly content with the functional, safe car that we drive.
Breathe. Go deeper.
The second layer interpretation was that I was longing for more money, as represented by the luxury sedan.
Not it. Plenty of money. Go deeper.
The third layer interpretation was that I was longing for more stability. Often the fancy car would be driven by a distinguished gentleman in his seventies, and I could feel the quivery ache of longing for the patriarch of our family who would handle things, someone who would provide the pillar of protection and wisdom as the stable trunk of our family tree.
Close. Getting deeper. Shine the light of consciousness directly on the pain.
And then I know. It emerges from the core of my soul, the heart of my heart. It’s the longing for a family home. It’s the grief from the loss of my childhood house after my parents’ divorce. It’s longing for the older generation to wrap me in their embrace and feed me at their table. It’s the longing to feel taken care of by elders, held in the greater web of an intergenerational community.
My eyes well up with tears. I breathe into my grief brought forth by my longing. For now, there’s nothing to do with it, nothing to fix. Further wisdom arrives a few days later, a life-changing insight that we, my husband and I, and our home are the family hub now. We can offer this, and in the offering the ache of the longing is diminished. But for now, I just stay with the opening of pain, now pure instead of encased inside the longing. And once I broke open to the root pain, the superficial longing disappeared completely.
I don’t know why psyche communicates in symbol and code. Wouldn’t it be easier if we could understand ourselves without having to do the detective work of deciphering the messages? Yes, it would, but arguing with the way psyche communicates is as futile as arguing against reality. For some reason, we’re not meant to land on the big answers directly. We are invited, instead, to spiral into wisdom, to learn our secret codes only by spending slow time with ourselves. We learn to love our hidden communications, like Pablo Neruda writes, “as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
There is wisdom in your longing, resting on the lily pad of your heart like a lotus flower, waiting for you to spiral into the labyrinthian pathways that lead you into the center of you, that secret, hidden places where great pain and great love live side by side.