The Art of Conscious Longing
When I was seventeen and a senior in high school, I had my first major crush. Her name was Becky and I doubt that she even knew who I was. This was 41 years ago, yet I still remember the sensation of longing to be with her, to get to know her. It was overwhelming. I didn’t know if I could go on without her. We never met, and I lived.
One of the plots in the movie “Love Actually” involved a step-father whose wife had just died of cancer, and her pre-teenage son who apparently was deeply suffering and spent many hours locked in his room. When the step-father finally got up his nerve to ask his step-son what was wrong, he assumed the boy was grieving the loss of his mother. The son finally answered after much hesitation, “I’m in love, dad.”
The father asked, deeply relieved, “Aren’t you a little young to be in love?”
The boy immediately and casually answered, “no.”
His father eventually saw that his son’s pain of being in love with a seemingly inaccessible girl was greater than his grief from losing his mother.
My teenage feelings for Becky, and this younger boy’s feelings for the girl, are both examples of “longing.” Unfortunately, the word “longing” carries negative connotations for most people. It is viewed as a painful condition, like grieving for a lost love, or a hopeless desire for a life partner.
I want to invite you, whether you are coupled or single, to see longing as a powerful tool for awareness. Truth is, we all long for happiness especially when we feel sad, or for peace when we feel agitated, or health when we are sick, or a lover when we feel lonely. Longing is a natural response of the body, mind or feelings to fill what is needed or desired. It can also be a conscious meditation.
I want to focus on a specific type of longing, the longing for a beloved, a true partner to share this life with. This longing has always been with me. After I got over Becky, the longing opened my young heart to my first girlfriend, who “dumped” me after a mere three months. The summer after high school and autumn in college, I felt a huge longing for love. I was of course too young to understand the gift in the feeling of longing. I know now that my longing led me to find Joyce. But did my longing for a beloved disappear because I found Joyce? No, because true longing is a spiritual, not a physical or emotional, condition. My real longing has always been to feel my true self, the awareness of the highest love of the universe. Does that mean I am not happy with Joyce? Of course not. When I feel my deeper longing, I am most in love with Joyce because I am most in love.
The pain of longing is due to the illusion that happiness will come when the longed for result is achieved. It is the folly of goal-orientation. It’s the single person who thinks relationship is the answer. It isn’t. Longing can bring great joy when it is welcomed and even celebrated as a feeling in itself, rather than a means to an end. Longing is not something to be fixed, or gotten rid of. It is in its highest form the soul’s yearning for all there is. If prayer is the body of a rocketship, longing is its engine. Longing is the very heart of prayer.
Joyce and I have met many single people who feel that longing for a beloved is a sign of weakness, or useless pain, or a waste of time. On the contrary, we encourage singles to focus on the heart of their longing, the longing for the true inner beloved.
For those of you who are couples, the more deeply you allow yourself to long for this inner beloved, the more vulnerable and accessible you become to your partner, and the more joy your relationship will bring you.
I don’t want to be naïve. It’s difficult to avoid the pain of longing. But to shut yourself off from longing because of the pain is to shut yourself off from life, and love. Long for the highest love even though it may hurt. For the feeling of love is present within the longing, but only when you are willing to go past your resistance. The great teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda, after losing his mother when he was a small child, was so filled with longing for the Divine Mother (the mother aspect of God) that this longing became the basis of his entire life and spiritual journey, and the subject of many of his poems and songs. In his Autobiography of a Yogi, he described a time in his youth when he longed so deeply for his True Mother that he prayed continually and fasted for days. He was ready to die if he didn’t see Her. She appeared to him, giving him the comfort and reassurance of Her eternal love. Was his longing agony? Perhaps. Was it ecstasy? Definitely.