I’ve been caught up in longing.
Longing – a “yearning, eager desire or craving,” It comes from the old English langung a “…weariness, sadness, dejection…” but no definition gets it quite right, for me.
To sit in longing is an interesting space.
Longing for someone is entirely different to ‘missing’ them, in my awareness.
We ‘miss’ with our mind. Longing, it seems, is an experience that encompasses the entirety of our being.
I’ve been on a journey with being able to notice and name emotions. To name longing took time, “perhaps this is sadness?” “feeling weak?” “A curious and quite lovely type of pain?!” But knowing, in my reflection, it was something far more than my words managed to touch.
I like longing. Is that a strange statement to make? I believe that longing comes from an encounter with something magical enough that this (to me, peculiarly beautiful) emotion is evoked.
The universe we exist in places endless expectation on us to find and satisfy our hungers and desires as instantaneously as we possibly can. That the outcome is never, in the least bit, satisfying is what keeps us in a loop of consumption… be that of sugar, carbs, porn, fast-fashion or whatever lands on the doorstep in one of those too-familiar brown cardboard Amazon parcels.
Perhaps, I reflected, that is why to sit still, with longing, feels so unusual. So welcome.
I find that sitting with longing, which can be considered a pretty melancholy emotion, is extremely lovely.
But why? Really? Can it be as simple as it being so at odds with a fast-paced, ever-scrolling, society that seeks reassurance from ‘buy now’ buttons and navigating Porn Hub with a well-trained thumb?
My love of longing feels like more than that. It feels like connecting to an entire new universe.
Swaying to stillness…
To long for something is to feel its lack. And to exist with longing is not easy.
In the world of yoga it seems that many who come to the mat have an awareness of a certain, dark, untouchable space… you could call it a void… that exists in us. Perhaps the awareness comes from some experience of sensing that space and becoming curious about what it is, and where it could lead us. Down the rabbit hole…
I mention this as, for me, there is a connection between that space and the feeling of longing.
We have a certain posture that we work with in Kundalini Global yoga classes… to my knowledge the posture has no name… born of ‘neck rolls’… it involves a gentle swaying from side to side. I believe it is the brain-child of Carolyn Cowan. If it is not, then that is certainly where my experience with the posture began. And where I fell head over heals in love with it. I share it here because it is what truly awoke this longing in me… and what I turn to when I want to sit with it once more.
You could try it if you haven’t… we sit cross legged, spine straight, hands on the knees.
The breath is gentle. Quiet. We inhale in the centre and exhale as we begin to sway. Move to the left first. Ear moving down toward the shoulder, swaying gently to the left, coming back up to gently inhale, then exhaling and gently swaying, ear toward shoulder, to the right.
Gradually, with each breath, each exhale, moving a tiny bit lower. As we slowly descend the arms can come to the side, on the floor either side of us, to offer support. Rocking slowly, slowly, lower and lower. We take just as much time to descend as to slowly come back. I’d start with 3 minutes… so 90 seconds to descend as you sway, and 90 to come back slowly to tall and straight.
And then, not lying back as we commonly do after a posture, just sit in stillness. Really soft in the body. And notice…
What Carolyn brought my awareness to is a pulse. A pulse in the spinal fluid. It is called the lumbar cerebrospinal fluid pulse. And the rhythmic, swaying, motion of the posture allows us quickly, gently, to being able to tune into it. I find my body still sways a little with the pulse. So gently it is like being rocked in the weightless arms of an angel.
Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear, colourless body fluid found within the tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord of all vertebrates. When we are entirely present and still and when we are landed in our bodies, we may be able to become aware of this pulse. When we do, when we can, it is, or has been for me, an experience of myself that is otherworldly in its gentleness, in its perfection. I do not use the word perfect often but it really is. Perfect bliss.
Yet. Yet. In this perfect bliss I seem always to find a paradoxical longing. An ache.
How is this possible? To be entirely accepting of the moment, blissful, and yet the experience is one where longing is the word… Before gentle. Before calm. Before present. The only word I may place before longing is this one… Divine.
Carolyn teaches that the lumbar cerebrospinal fluid pulse is the Divine within the body.
How beautiful is that?
To me it feels exactly right.
The stillness that comes from the posture I describe above leaves me sitting with an emotion that feels so much more than ‘happy’. It is an aching, longing, blissful pull that feels like … a calling?!? Words. Words. Sometimes they fail.
Whatever the words are, I’ve felt this bliss before. Along with its accompanying, paradoxical, ache. One instance in-particular springs to mind, owing to how entirely unremarkable the moment was that it came. At least from the outside…
It was after my usual clockwise run around my local park on an Autumnal evening last year. It came as I walked home through an extremely ‘rough’ area of my city as the sun set. My trainers had rubbed my feet and my hair was wet with sweat. Cars passed. People shouted between windows in the flats lining the street and kids wove around me on scooters, giggling. The sky was beautiful. Purple, pink and orange. A huge flock of geese flew noisily overhead. Of course, after my run, I was flooded with endorphins. But nothing was unfamiliar. Nothing was noteworthy. Yet, all of a sudden, I had this sense come over me. I stopped still and looked up.
Utter perfection. Utter perfection in every cell of my body and… again, that deep deep longing.
It is so lovely when we can have such moments and consciously think ‘I will not forget this moment.’ And we don’t.
…something you cannot explain or know
When reflecting on this sense of present longing I, of course, needed to research, to dig into it and see what others may have taken such a feeling and experience to be or to mean.
In my reading I came across a word I like. It’s a German word: “Sehnsucht.’’
The dictionary tells us that ‘‘sehnsucht’’ is an “intense, mostly bittersweet longing for something remote or unattainable that would make life more complete”. Like a really intense yet infantile crush, then? Where you imagine complete perfection and bliss would come to all aspects of life with the first, passionate kiss? No. Not that. The translations of this word are tricky in English, but roughly it is, yes, a longing, but no, not like a crush, it is a deep yearning for something that you cannot ever explain or know.
I love to find a word that feels in alignment with the incommunicable. Not perfect. But close.
A yearning for something we cannot explain or know. Perhaps that is a definition not only of sehnsucht but of an aspect of devotion. Of a longing for the divine without. The external divine of our awareness. Whatever, whoever, that is. I think it is that. And I think it is a beautiful thing.
If I told 99% of the people in my real life that I was sitting in stillness with a yearning for God they would think I had lost the plot. . . but that is what I have come to.
I’ve been reading a lot about St. Augustine. I cannot go into his life here but do look him up. Quite a character. I have come to believe he was probably neurodivergent in some way. We share the same birthday. I did think once, ‘I hope we share little else…’ But of course we do. And not only this longing, this “Sehnsucht.” Although this is an aspect of human existence I am certain that we both have touched.
In Augustine’s sixth homily in his Homilies on 1, John states that a distinctive quality of Christian living is to learn to live into our longing:
“The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing. What you long for, as yet you do not see; but longing makes in you room that shall be filled, when that which you are to see shall come.”
It’s such a curious thing. I love seeing an empty room inside me. A space. In Augustine’s thinking it is as if we are to be trained by longing. Not an arbitrary longing for our fuck buddy or a pair of cheap trainers. But by a holy longing.
A holy longing that creates a space, a ‘room that shall be filled’. I do not know if I want it to be filled. But I like sitting in that room and waiting in stillness. I like that a lot.
Most of us never sit in it.
So often, through a vast array of means and methods – returning to the list above of fast-food, fast-sex, fast-fashion – we work to soothe ourselves with anything other than… other than what? Other than the Divine.
I do not think these things are ‘bad.’ If we can be present to any moment, any experience, even a show we consume on Netflix or a cheap glazed doughnut… they can all be Divine.
Perhaps some aspect of longing comes when we forget the giver. Whatever or whoever we imagine that to be.
I believe that I have no satisfying way of ending this post for you. Perhaps I want to leave you in longing for an answer that may never come.
That is where I find myself. Happily.
I still sit, and sit still, in longing. And yes, I move between the experience of presence in it and seeking understanding of what it is.
I have come to realise that to sit in this longing is excellent for giving birth to artistic expression.
But I also reflect that, to go back to the ‘void’ inside that many in yoga, in ‘spiritual’ circles, seem to have become aware of in some way, whatever the thing is that we believe to be a missing part of ourselves… perhaps is not a space that needs to be filled but one that is perfection as it is. If we can sit with it, in it.
The longing for…
I don’t feel it needs to be named.