Longing & Belonging
With the arrival of shorter days and colder temperatures, I find myself longing for a hot beverage, a cozy blanket, and a good book. On rainy days the longing might even result in a second cup of coffee and fuzzy socks!
Is this longing a sign for concern? Does this indulgent course of action warrant guilt (or shame!)? Could longing be the cause of my suffering or that of others? Is this behavior selfish? Am I selfish for even having longings? (I told you I was skilled at asking questions 🙂 Read: Asking Questions)
Longing: The inquiry and introspection
Do you know longing? Are you acquainted with the emotional state of wanting for something this is not available? Have you found yourself wistful for a brighter future or a returning to an earlier state? How do you understand your own relationship with longing? And what do you do with this information?
I was taught that longing is weakness. It represents desire and leads to temptation and a path to ruin. Longing is something to avoid and actively discourage. This teaching caused me a lot of confusion and suffering. I’ve since changed my mind!
To want, to long, to wish for is our nature. Longing is decidedly human. It’s one of the primary conditions of our humanness. Our big brains allow us to remember the past, “predict” the future and solve the problems and puzzles along the way to connect the two. However, perhaps longing is less about the brain and more about the heart.
Manas: Yogic philosophy of the mind
Manas is a Sanskrit term which means “the sensory processing mind”, sometimes referred to as the sixth sense. Manas, or the “mind stuff” in yoga philosophy, distinguishes humans from animals. According to yogic philosophy, the human mind has 16 dimensions, which are classified into four categories, (1) buddhi, (2) manas, (3) ahamkara and (4) citta. Citta, the basic mental consciousness, develops manas. Manas is the sense mind responsible for emotions. Ahamkara refers to the human ego and sense of identity and lastly, buddhi refers to intellect, wisdom and unites the mind with Higher Consciousness.
In other words, beyond the size of the human brain and its capacity for thinking, manas refers to the AWEsome power of the mind and human intelligence. I have come to understand the manas as the trinity of brain, heart, and belly. The brain for logic and reason, the heart for emotions and stories and the belly (“guts”) for intuition and deeper knowing. Together the brain, heart and belly collaborate as equal players in understanding and comprise what is known as “the mind stuff.”
Going deeper into yogic philosophy, manas is classified into five states or depths of attention.
- Kshipta: a state of wakefulness when focus is easily shifted
- Vikshipta: an ability to process a wide range of information without the ability to focus on one object
- Mudha: a dull state where one is not seeking new knowledge
- Ekagrata: single-focused, one-mindedness; the ability to focus on an object and remain focused without distraction
- Niruddha: the state when the mind is completely in control and spiritual elevation is achieved
“Spirtual elevation is achieved.” Patanjali called it Samadhi and identified it as the eighth and final limb of the raja yoga path.
CAUTION: The dangers of longing
Achieving Niruddha or its similar concept, Samadhi, is not as easy as it may seem. Control. Life itself can make this mental state of complete mind control in spiritual ease nearly impossible. Life is hard. Judgment is the easiest, most accessible level of mind energy investment. Compassionate wisdom might be the most demanding. Traveling the distance from judgment to compassionate wisdom is the practice of clearer seeing enabled by the disciplines of Yoga (asana, pranayama and meditation).
Guatama Buddha identified five negative mental states, known as the Five Hindrances. Buddha defined these five states as the disconnect between ease and dis-ease in our mental state, the separation between critical judgment and compassionate wisdom. He called these states “suffering”. Suffering as the state of non-union with the divine or spiritual alignment.
Buddha’s five obstacles include:
- DESIRE, aka sensual desires,
- AVERSION, aka ill will,
- SLOTH & TORPOR, aka apathy & laziness,
- RESTLESSNESS, aka anxiousness & worry; and
- DOUBT, aka lack of trust, fear.
For simplicity, the five obstacles can be consolidated into variations of attachment, or preferences for the way things “should” be. These preferences become so potent they transform into subconscious expectation or required conditions for our sense of ease and safety. In other words, these preferences become synonymous with the “right” way. All effort is consumed by a need to return to the familiar comfort of our preferences. Failure to recognize our preferences results in subconscious habits that maintain the status quo and can even lead to the path of addiction and addictive behaviors as coping and numbing mechanism.
Desire is the attachment to what is wanted/desirable. Aversion is an attachment to avoiding what is not desirable. Sloth and torpor is attachment to comfort or non-effort. Restlessness is attachment to sensation and busyness. And finally, doubt is attachment to distrust and self-protection. Attachment in all of its expressions is an effort to create permanence in an impermanent reality. This definition of attachment identifies longing as a slippery slope to suffering. I disagree.
CORRECTION: Longing is not bad
Longing, as a cause for suffering, is a mere-half-step away from attachment or craving given this thinking. The meaning of LONGING is a strong desire especially for something unattainable : craving; a feeling of wanting something or someone very much.
But what if that which we long for is good for us, or even necessary for our livelihood?
This thinking is flawed. Instead, I propose that longing is a symptom of dis-ease. Longing is our internal alarm system that begs us to pay attention.
Consider this analogy:
- Food is necessary. Food is edible energy to sustain life.
- Waste is the discard, separated from what was otherwise valuable. Waste becomes fertilizer.
- Fertilizer is the food (along with water) plants need to live. Food helps living things grow.
- Growth is essential to flower, to mature, to produce.
Forgive my dramatized, simple example for the moment.
Without food we cannot live. We cannot grow. Without waste from our food production, there is no fertilizer to feed the next generation of plants. Both scenarios result in starvation. Suffering is a state of lacking what is needed. Lack is the absence of what is considered needed or worthy of having. Not having what is needed risks life itself. In my book, starvation IS suffering. Starvation is the result of a lack of food. Suffering is NOT the longing for food.
Longing is NOT the problem. Rather longing is the communication between the heart and the body to make known the lack that exists. Longing is the emotional expression of lack. Acquiring is the two-stage process of accessing that which is missing (to resolve the lack) and requires both (1) awareness and (2) action. Awareness of the lack and action to acquire or access that which is absent.
If life is the experience of avoiding or overcoming suffering, death and starvation, life is the experience of learning how to seek and acquire the needs for our bodies, minds and souls. The motivation to seek “food” is longing for the food to be in our bellies and nourishing our bodies. In a nutshell, longing inspires us to do what can be done to acquire resources to satisfy our needs so that we may live!
Solving lack, scarcity, deficiency or absence resolves fear, doubt, death.
If the Buddhists discourage attachment and the Yogi’s warn against cravings, why do I encourage longing?
Longing is NOT the problem
Our culture has a number of idioms for separating cause and effect. Here’s a few.
- Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
- Don’t kill the messenger.
- If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
- Have you cake and eat it to.
Expectations and attachment to desired outcomes is where things get sticky. Instead of denying or vilifying our longings, I think we need to embrace our longings as a way to connect to ourselves and the oneness that unites us all. Longing is simply the heart’s language to ask for help from the brain and the body to solve the obstacle to living.
Longing is the fuel that powers our engines for action. Action is the fire that burns off impurities and facilitates transformation. Longing is the alarm that communicates to the other components of the brain that there is a problem. Longing is a symptom of disconnection, loneliness, and lack. Longing is the reminder that we are designed for connection and fashioned to live in community. Longing is evidence of our inherent need to belong. It is evidence of our separation from Prana, Truth and Oneness.
Belonging: The cure for longing, loneliness and disconnection
By definition belonging is an affinity for a place or situation. Perhaps belonging is to BE WITH our LONGING. Belonging is a key ingredient to our sense of safety and serves as the foundation, the launching pad for our own becoming. Belonging is the comfort and familiarity that encourages and enables us to lean into our longing and gives us the courage and confidence to do the challenging work of introspection, clearer seeing and learning! Yet, belonging is still only the beginning. Belonging is the beginning of our own becoming.
“Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
Our connection to others can only be as deep as our connection with ourselves.”
Perhaps longing and letting go of expectations and attachments is the path to compassion on the journey of enlightenment, the ultimate belonging. Meditation is the practice of learning to “be with” life as it is. Rather than denying and ignoring our longing, it’s time to consider longing as an invitation to being with our true nature in pursuit of our ultimate belonging.
Researcher Brene Brown defines compassion as the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness, and we take action in the face of suffering. Empathy, then is the tool of compassion. Empathy is demonstrated in our willingness to be present, to be with another in their circumstance, to be with someone in their suffering. The near enemy of compassion, pity, looks like compassion but rather than cultivating connection, pity promotes distance and fosters space between the giver and the recipient. Pity undermines belonging.
In other words, to belong, to be known and valued by others, we must first do the introspective, hard work of knowing and LOVING ourselves. This often requires us to SHIFT our expectations and let go of what is not serving us. This reminds me of the Neti-Neti (not this; Not this) meditation practice of sifting and sorting.
Longing to belong may be the most significant crisis of our time. Fueled by fear and enabled by social distancing, we have all experienced new dimensions of separation, isolation and loneliness. Connection is the solution. To connect we must risk vulnerability. Courage to own our fear of being with our longing. Our fear of being in process, incomplete, and imperfect. Our resistance to be with others in discomfort and even pain.
- The Remedy: Connection: the practice being with.
- The Strategy: Belonging: the practice of showing up
- The Benefit: Bliss: the beauty of being our true self