Longing / by Michelle Cowan

Longing.  I feel longing. Underneath the disappointment, the anger, the sadness, the lonesomeness, the tiredness, the confusion (I could go on), lies longing. My whole being aches for something unnamable.

It’s tempting to leave it at that. Once I realize that I can’t describe something in words, it’s pretty easy for me to leave it behind (at least for a few hours) and sit on my meditation cushion, believing that I’m somehow accessing the unnamable. I can breathe in and out at my desk at work and experience the unnamable feeling.  I can get down to it via non-linear channels. 

I asked God if, when I encounter the thing I have been longing for, I will know it. I haven’t heard back yet.

I think I will know. I think that whatever it is is very close. I’m not sure if it’s a person, an event, a job, a chance, a vocation, a feeling, or a group. It’s probably something else entirely. For certain, it is a longing for change – either in me or in the world around me. Something needs to come in and mix up the action. But that’s not such a huge revelation. Any longing is a longing for change of some kind, even if it’s just a longing for a change within that will allow me to enjoy the world as it is.

Or maybe every longing is simply a desire for the longing to go away. Maybe longing just is, and all we can do is want it to leave us alone.  But what would I be without a longing of some kind?  Once I achieve the object of my longing, doesn’t the longing just transfer to a new object? Once it transfers, I then spend days, months, or years figuring out what the new object is.  After a while, I might lay hands on the not-so-new-anymore longing, but all that leads to is the appearance of a new new longing. 

Or maybe I’m always entertaining multiple longings. I’m filled with hundreds of longings, and when one goes away, others stay or newly appear. The longings constantly flow in and out of me.  I’m a body of ever-shifting longings blowing and whirling through me – some finding their way to the core and making a home for themselves, and others whizzing by faster than I can feel them.

I like this image of me as a swirling cacophony of movement and yearning. That’s how I experience life. It also explains why longings often confuse me. I misinterpret what they are.  I assume I have a singular longing when, in fact, dozens or even hundreds or thousands of longings compete for my attention every moment of every day. The crux of my disease is that I mistake a surface longing for one of the deeper ones. I might eat something or apply for another new job instead of paying attention to the deeper longing. I assume I want food or a career change, when maybe what I long for is far more complicated.

The key to my salvation is not satisfying longings. It must be something else.

It’s easier to attend to surface desires and far more difficult to discern the deeper longings.  I doubt those deeper longings are any harder to satisfy than the surface ones, but pinpointing what it is that could satisfy the deeper desires – that’s the trick.

So here I sit: me, a swirling mass of longing. That about describes it.

And which longing is at my core?  Which longing do I feel right now?  Is it the same longing I’ve felt for the last two months?  Or has it changed?  What is this?  And does it matter if I fulfill it?  Will I barely feel the satisfaction of fulfillment and simply move on to the next longing? Is it better to become friends with longing and let it exist in my heart as long as it chooses to stay?  When do I take action to fulfill a longing? Or could all my longings be fulfilled without me doing anything? Could developing satisfaction and contentment with the longing actually be the path to fulfillment?

Maybe.  I think I’m hungry…