Longing is what moves us. Whether it’s the physical longing for food when you are hungry, or the tight-chest shallow-breath longing for the object of your desire to fall for you, longing demands our attention, and can take us over.
And when it does take us over – we may plunge into the depths of the feeling of separation from that which we long for. All of us have felt this, many times in our lives. You may remember a time before you were 5 years old, crying out for your mother when she was not with you. You might recall utter heartbreak as a teenager, after being rejected by someone you dreamed of, loved. You may recall a recent missed opportunity that left you bitter – the gap between what you wished for, and reality: longing.
I believe longing is one of the forces that has the most power over our souls… Nature itself is designed with the longing for survival, the longing for the continuation of life. So… For something so strong, and so necessary – why does it have to hurt so much??
Well… suffering can move us towards truth when it motivates us to try to end the suffering, or at least to understand it.
I won’t forget a recent session when my therapist said something like, “Maybe you act one way during the day, you act one way with your family, you function well in this or that way… But your eating, now THAT won’t be suppressed, that kind of bingeing is like.. HERE I AM, this is rage, this is hopelessness.”
The point was to understand that what I was describing to her: eating 3 slices of pizza, then movie popcorn-candy-soda, then PB&J sandwich, milk, fruit snack, string cheese, all within a few hours.. that this was SAYING SOMETHING – something, truly, important. Something about – some longing.
Why would you binge like that when you don’t want to? When you even hate yourself for it? When it causes so very much suffering?
You must be believing that what you truly want, or even need, is not possible for you – and rather than live with the ache of longing for something that may not be possible – you try to get hit after hit of temporary release.
But, here’s the thing with trying to deal with longing by numbing out:
Longing’s with you as long as you live.
And so is food – so there’s a choice here: learn to live with longing, or continue to be tormented by food in an attempt to perpetually numb longing out.
My suffering demands my attention. “WHY, WHY, WHY again, why eating with such resignation, eating with such a vengeance. What would I have felt like, thought about, if I did not eat that way right now…? What am I doing?? What’s going on?! With everything I know and understand, how could I continue to do this…….?” My suffering leads directly to these questions – and the answers to these questions lead directly to my longing. Now.. Where does the longing lead?
A poem, if you will:
One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
I share this poem because Rumi is trying to show us what the longing leads to, if you allow it. It leads you to yourself. But don’t just take that as a “sounds-nice-whatever” statement… Think deeply here. You have a longing. Let’s say it is a very, very old longing, that you eventually learned to mute in some way because living with it all the time was too painful, too overwhelming for a child. Let’s say you lived with the pure longing to make your mother happy, until before you knew it, you were bingeing or restricting each time you felt that you had disappointed her. Now let’s say a decade or 2 or several have passed, and you find yourself still bingeing or restricting in this same way – and you cannot get yourself to stop. Why? There is a part of you that still lives within, because at some point it became forbidden to be expressed. It is a truth about yourself – and you know all the sayings about truth by now, right?
A personal illustration of following the suffering to the longing to the truth/myself:
I wanted to binge on dinner very badly.. to the point that I could not imagine moving on with my night without doing so. I explained this to my boyfriend who laid down with me and tried to talk about it. After some time, I became distraught with the idea that no matter what I do, it doesn’t help – what if I can never fix my relationship to food?? What if I can never feel better… And, I started crying, hard.. Soon, my boyfriend noticed that I was trying to stop crying… And he told me to breathe into it. When I did, I cried harder and harder, and soon I couldn’t believe how long I had sustained crying that hard…
At some point, I had a clear feeling/thought of: no matter what I do, it doesn’t help – What if I can never fix Mom…?? What if I can never feel better…
If there’s a desperation that lives in me now, because by 10 or 11 or 12 I couldn’t stand it anymore and stuffed it down… Then my soul, my psyche, my true self, whatever you think of it as.. will make sure that it gets expressed somehow. If it’s not going to be consciously, met with loving awareness, then it’s going to be unconsciously, meaning acted out, meaning – I will feel the exact extent of desperation I am avoiding, because of what I do in the relationship to food.
For some it’s love relationships: To the extent that there’s feelings of deserving punishment that haven’t been acknowledged, your soul will make sure you find someone to be with who will emotionally punish you to that extent. For some it’s entertainment: to the extent that there’s unacknowledged feelings of never getting to be your childhood-self or to be carefree, your soul will make sure you find no true relaxation no matter how many hours you spend in the false reality of TV, video games, internet. For every way of being in which one causes suffering to oneself, there’s an explanation that involves suppressed self-expression, past or present. It’s you bringing your attention back to yourself through suffering, when healthier modes of communication with yourself have been closed down.
For some, it’s food. Geneen Roth calls the suffering in the relationship to food “the unexpected path, the doorway.” What she means is this: If you have an identifiable issue with food (you can see when you binge, you can see when you have the urge to count calories, you can see when you’re drowned in obsession about food or body), then you’ve got a BLARING SIGNAL that there is something longing to be expressed at that very moment. You have a way to identify the moments in which you are calling out to yourself – the human experience is giving you something true about you, something precious to taste, and it is making you scared and inclined to run.
Rumi’s saying that what we long for is ourselves – our own love, to know ourselves, to know the truth of what we are. Feel your longing, and see the truth that you don’t want to eat more pizza, you wanted your mom to be happy so that you could be happy, and it ripped your heart to shreds. The truth that, ah… I loved her. What happened was I loved her.. I loved.. I, love…
You start with pizza and you end with facing yourself as a loving, vulnerable being.
Imagine the possibility of uncovering your longings each day – who would you be?