One of the many challenges of working with intrusive thoughts is that there’s often a grain of truth embedded inside the obsession. If we feed that grain by watering it with our attention, it grows into an unwanted weed of mythic proportions, taking over our internal space on every level until it’s difficult to function. When working with most intrusive thoughts, nothing is gained by exploring the grain of truth. But occasionally we come across a thought that carries within it a seed of consciousness and existential awareness that is worth unpacking and exploring.

A common thought for those struggling with relationship anxiety and life in general is: “Something is missing.” Whether the thought is directed toward your relationship or another aspect of life, it carries within it the expectation that something “out there” is supposed to fulfill you and provide you with the euphoric, technicolor version of life that the media has indoctrinated you to believe is your birthright. As I teach repeatedly, nothing out there can fulfill you or bring true meaning. Yes, we need relationships of all kinds, but it’s not someone else’s role to set your inner life on fire and learn what it means to find deep and sustaining fulfillment. That’s your job and yours alone.

However, when the thought “something is missing” orbits around your mind, it’s trying to find its way inward so that it can ignite an aspect of your heart that both remembers pain and longs for more fiery joy. For the truth is that there is something missing, but it’s not what you think. Let’s break it down:

1. There’s an existential element to the thought that something is missing as it points to an in utero memory of when nothing was missing. We experienced perfect union in our mother’s womb, and from the moment we’re born, we experience separateness. When we alight on “something is missing” we’re in touch with the fundamental separateness of being human and the only sane response is to breathe it in and grieve.

2. There’s an emotional element to this thought, for on one level it’s a projection of the undeniable fact that there was something missing from childhood that now shows up on your partner’s face or on the screen of your life. There were needs that weren’t met, needs that your parents didn’t know how to meet because they simply weren’t capable. When we can name the unmet needs and allow the sadness connected with them to move through we hijack the tendency to remain stuck in projection, which, on one level, is an abdication of responsibility and an eclipse of growth.

3. Lastly, the thought is an invitation to reach for your birthright of experiencing moments of euphoria. We long to feel fully alive. We seek an experience of ecstatic joy that transcends the ordinary. It’s unrealistic to expect to feel ecstasy every day, but the longing for these larger-than-life emotions is, indeed, a healthy longing.

What happens when we follow the contrails of the longing instead of misdirecting it?

We find ourselves in the forest of mystery where euphoria hangs on tree branches like jeweled fruit and fireflies alight the night as pinpricks of holiness. It’s the longing that leads us there. It’s the longing for “something more” that lives inside “something is missing” that, when followed like breadcrumbs, lands us in the land of what we do not know where the river of expression lures us to its banks of light. “Something is missing” says YES, something IS missing, follow me and I’ll show you the way.

When you misdirect this expectation for more aliveness onto a partner, friend, food, shopping experience, or anything external, you overlook the breadcrumbs of longing and grow blind to the firelights that point the way. As always, the intrusive thought is the messenger, and the next task is to reel in the projection and own the need as yours so that you can turn toward the true source and rediscover the timeless spot of grace that is your birthright and guide to your aliveness. As Mark Nepo writes,

Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry; an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by god. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the Seat of Unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, And Jesus calls it the Center of our Love. 

We discover true ecstasy when we make love with Life itself, which means allowing the kaleidoscopic canvas of colors that we call emotions to churn like paint mixed in our soul as we time travel back to the original sources of pain and sit with the young girl who was left to cry alone in her room or the teenager who was outcast because he was “overweight” or had a nose larger than the societal norm. We find ecstasy when we meet these forgotten parts with tenderness and say, “I’m here. I hear you. You’re not alone. Of course you felt lonely and heartbroken and alone and sad and scared and confused. I will never leave you again.” The unleashment of emotion and meeting of compassion give rise to aliveness.

Something is missing, and that something is you: your emotional awakening, your creative expression, and your spiritual connection. When these rivers are flowing and lit by the lamplights of your tender and fierce attention – tender because we lead with gentleness and fierce because we must protect from the forces of fear and resistance that, in their attempts to divert us from the path, are actually inviting us to strengthen our resolve – we taste moments of euphoria and this life exactly as we know it becomes a place that is infused with a hum of quiet joy.

* To learn more about healthy pathways to cultivating ecstasy, I recommend reading Robert A. Johnson’s Ecstasy. Understanding the Psychology of Joy. 

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