The Wisdom of Longing

IMG_4264At 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 place where great pain and great love live side by side.

37 comments to The Wisdom of Longing

  • Lalalove

    Ummmm okay I know I’ve said this before but THIS is my favorite post!!! This is everything. I’m so glad you write the way you write and that I found you. Love this post!!

  • Myjanne

    Omg Sheryl, you are just so amazing, I can’t get over how each and every article you write speaks directly to my soul. I believe that things happen for a reason and that I came across your work as part of my own learning and as part of my journey of becoming my most aware and loving self. I just wish I could tap into the layers that you describe and reach the final place that is the core of my longing. Im sure it’s something that comes with practice and I’m hoping that through your Open Your Heart program that that can help me learn more about finding the source of my longing and connecting with my higher self and where I can finally find some peace/understanding. Thank you once again for your insightfulness, it’s truly comforting and inspiring.

    • You will touch into this place through the program, Myjanne, but remember that it’s not a one-time, final place of core longing that you discover and then heal. Healing occurs in cycles and spirals: you will touch down into a major insight and then you’ll find yourself stuck again. Opening and closing; clarity and confusion; these are the cycles of being human.

  • Rachel

    Thank you very much Sheryl.

  • Ann

    Your blog sends out wisdom to us fortunate recipients like ripples in a pond. I’ve just been hit by another gentle yet at the same time earth-shattering ripple 😉 thanks Sheryl.

  • Smiccile

    hehe I have to agree with lala!<3. This is really such a wonderful post and it came at the perfect time (as it always does!). Thank you Sheryl for being you and I am so thankful for your work!!!

  • Tina

    Beautiful. I also welled-up at “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.” We are creating this for our grandchildren now and it feels very right to do so. Your experience helps validate my own choices. Thank you.

  • Grace

    “to spiral into wisdom” love everything this evokes. Thank you dear one.

  • lovely. Your personal story taps into the work I have been doing on loss. Loss of what I didn’t have in parenting growing up, loss of feeling my dad was not emotionally as strong as I needed to defend me against a very narcissistic mother, loss of a family home etc. After working on this for years, I see now that I am in a relationship with a loving man I am not done with that work at all, and that I am actully feeling such angry feelings at my new partner for not fulfilling these expectations. Its really hard but I sticking with because he is so special. I just keep apologizing to him and telling him Im working on myself, the hardest part is the loss of feeling attracted to my old partner becasue I am not attracted to this guy physically, I keep working….

    • “I see now that I am in a relationship with a loving man I am not done with that work at all, and that I am actully feeling such angry feelings at my new partner for not fulfilling these expectations. ” That’s a key realization, Diana, and all you can do is keep seeing your blocks and walls and expectations and owning them. We can only work as fast as we can work on ourselves! And I guarantee that your partner has his end of the system as well.

  • lynne

    So moving …. I carry pain for all Iv lost ie parents, family home, support of elders and dont have children so av no new family to compensate. My partner is great but cannot fully understand the loneleness I sometimes feel or the longing for a family but its too late now.

  • You know Lynne, my partner lost his mother at a young age so its really hard if your partner has some of the same issues as you do,

  • Aliya

    Poignantly beautiful and poetic, thank you

  • Thank you Sheryl for a beautifully written post…. I want to share it with my clients. Are you ok with linking this to my website if I can figure out how to do it?

    So helpful to have you go so deep on Longings….something I do struggle with.
    Take good care

  • Thank you, Sheryl! Every time you hit it! I always gain a deeper insight into self and a greater acceptance of what is from your words!

  • Jessicabythebay

    Thank you so much, Sheryl! So much of my anxiety about the future and moving forward with my partner comes from a fear that I won’t be able to provide that stable home, which I didn’t have. I felt my heart clench when you talked about being wrapped in the love and wisdom of your elders. So, I see that, under my fear about not being able to be a good enough wife and mother, is my ache and longing to be loved and kept safe by those who came before me.

    • It’s really such a deep, primal longing, and I think it’s at the core of much of our modern hunger: the need to feel held in the intergenerational web. The work, I believe, is to learn how to create that web for ourselves, both in how we show up for ourselves and others and how we create our own communities.

  • Leaf

    Sheryl dear, thank you for the encouragement to investigate longings, those so poignant aches, and for the example of something like yoga for the psyche, breathe and stay with it and let yourself go deeper. A lovely supportive sight, a view of longing leading me into my own heart. Thank you.

  • Bea

    Sheryl, I wait for your posts every week knowing that your beautiful writing will speak directly to me and my journey. This time, as always, I felt a huge sense of relief and an opening of sorts when you described your experience with longing. Just last night I felt a deep sadness…. longing is a more appropriate word, and I blamed my partner for it. I wanted him to react to me in the way I saw a man speaking to his wife on tv (I know, I know!). Once I read your post today I went deeper with my longing, which on the surface was a longing for my husband to be ‘different’. It didn’t take long to touch the core of it, which I immediately identified as wanting to feel special, showered with love, taken care of. I want someone to take away my pain. I think it relates to exactly what you were saying, a grief for my family of origin, as we have just been married 5 months, and I think I’m still working through what I need to let go of. I had a feeling as if I were a lost child, and I believe that shows where my longing is coming from. Thank you, Sheryl, as always, for providing me with such insight, and deep comfort.

  • Angela

    Dear Sheryl,
    Another soulful post! I find I get deeper into my layer of soul is when I read your beautiful posts. When in the midst of anxiety my heart is shut. I feel desensitised, I feel numb and lost and soon as I journal my thoughts and feelings the anxiety lifts.. Dissapears., It is amazing how our mind is made. It’s not until we learn about people our environment that we can understand life in it’s forms.

  • Kirsty

    Dear Sheryl
    Once again your post is so resonating and comes at the perfect time!! I’m slowly coming to the realisation that I look outwards to gain satisfaction in my life. Whilst I’m happy person in general, I rely on others to provide me with a life purpose. As a result I alternate between terribly fearful of either losing them or becoming less important to them…or pushing them away. The first generally relates to my child and my role as a mother and the second to my husband.

    I want to be able to be the source of my own life’s purpose and not rely on others to provide that for me. I feel that if I can do that then I will able to open my heart more to my husband and I will be a better mother as I will no longer parent from fear.

    Do you have any recommendations of what I can do to get at the core of this issue, to work out what lays at the root of it?

  • Thankyou

    Timing was amazing. I had just been talking with my fiancé about core values and how one of mine is personal prayer time and I always wanted my wife to be a person of prayer and have the same value so as to put time aside for prayer. This was my longing and I was beginning to think that we didn’t share this core value. Then I began to worry. When I stepped back from the worry, I realised that I had learned years ago that prayer means we are relying on God and dealing with our own issues and that will keep a marriage safe, whereas if we are not praying we are relying on ourselves and that is unreliable. My tape was, ‘the family that prays together stays together.’ but I had formulated my longing out of fear, fear that if my wife was not praying as I do, our marriage would fail. So I was subconsciously trying to make her pray (although I knew it too and knew that it was futile to do this is she didn’t want to herself, but I couldn’t help myself. The fear was too strong.) Ironically, my desire for the relationship to work through prayer was actually the very thing that was making me think it might not work. This post helped me realise the fear behind the ‘value’ which I developed because my own parents relationship broke down. It was a safety mechanism.Through prayer (lol) I came to be able to go beyond the fear and undo the decision and instead trust God and realise that I love my fiancé anyway and it’s love which keeps things together. Again, Ironically, once I came clean with her and let it go, she has said she really wants to develop a prayer routine and wants me to help her. 🙂

  • Jane

    Sheryl, I echo everyone in saying I just love your posts and learn so much from them. Your work has helped me to shift self-defeating beliefs that I grasped on to for years and years, and replace them with more loving, healthy beliefs.

    I am happily engaged now and have been able to really feel my feelings and accept the ups and downs of my emotions, thanks to your work. The latest thing has been searching for my wedding dress, which has brought up some very interesting feelings and thoughts that I am trying to sit with and learn from, but it’s hard to put my finger on it!

    I am in indecision between two dresses, and then wondering if I should just scrap those choices altogether and look for a different dress. Because of your work, I have a hunch this “isn’t about the dress”!! 🙂 I am still working on getting to the core of it, but I have you to thank for even realizing there might BE a core of it!

    Thank you for all you do, and for holding our hands as we travel through our own transitions.

  • Bils

    Hi Sheryl I know this hasn’t got much to do with this blog post but I am doing your ‘how to find your happy life’ course at the moment, which is very insightful. I started journaling but find it has made me feel really sad and uncomfortable, especially about my relationship which I keep thinking I am in because I’m too scared to be alone ! Although I do not want to break up, these thoughts are constant. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this? Thank you

  • Hannah

    Hi Sheryl,
    Thank you for this post. As with most of of your posts, i felt as if you speaking directly to me. I place so much responsibility on my partner to make me feel happy and fulfilled in life. I know I do this because deep down i am insecure and am absolutely longing for the stability, nurturing and love i feel i missed out on as a child. I have always been aware of this longing inside of me and yet i have been in a tug of war with myself between:
    A) believing the misleading romantic ideals that mr. right should fill those dark spaces so that I am am never unhappy again (and if i am – he’s definitely not the one)
    B) sitting with the truth and letting it resonate with me until it brings healing and wisdom. This is what i need to focus on doing now

    Thank you again, Sheryl

  • Lexi


    I just wanted to say: you are not only creating this for your family hub, but for all of us. You are an elder, and the spaces you create (online forums and so forth) are a greater web (pun intended) of an intergenerational (at least in wisdom terms) community.

    Thank you for your crucial and beautiful work.

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