Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Threads of Longing

This week's blog is going to be a little messy because it's about an on-going journey and well, journeys rarely go as planned. In the weeks to come I will be writing more about this- defining terms, sorting seeds, untangling threads- but for now, I'm going to let it all be a little messy and tangled- like life.

There’s a line in a Jann Arden song where she sings with her heart in her voice, “I. . . . never wanted anything so bad.” It always tugs on me. I trust the truthfulness of the feeling- the longing- behind the words. I know, I know- advertisers use our longing to sell us things (and no, my longing for peace and beauty will not be met by a shiny new vehicle even if the ad shows a lone car skimming silently along a coastal highway past lush evergreens to the strains of classical music), and we often mistakenly interpret our deepest longing as being for something less essential and more transitory. But I have faith in our longing. I have faith that if I connect with my longing and follow that thread deeper and deeper into the essence of what my soul aches for, it will take me home, it will guide me in my life, it will allow me to offer who I am to the world.

Over the last few years, whenever I’ve heard Jann Arden sing those words, what really bothered me was that, for the first time in my life, I didn’t know what I wanted “so bad.” I didn’t know what I longed for. I had lost the end of the thread, had disconnected from my soul’s longing.

Oh, I still wanted, but it was a smaller, tighter, grasping, not the heart-opening longing that is more like a prayer than a project. I wanted to have more fun and less fighting in my marriage. I wanted my husband to be happy. I wanted him to want me. I wanted us to deepen the intimacy and create a home where we could both do our creative work. I wanted to be physically well. But eventually, even these became more ideas than a heart-knowing. Mostly I started wanting for certain things to stop. I wanted the pain and exhaustion in my body and heart to leave. I wanted the anger and recrimination in the relationship to stop. I wanted the endless trying to cease.

When we lose touch with our soul’s longing, we lose our way. We stop dreaming. We start surviving and eventually we are ambivalent about even that. For the last few years, if someone had asked me what I really wanted I would have had to consider who I should ask.

Many spiritual paths talk about wanting as the root of suffering. Certainly, being attached to having things a particular way when we do not control a great deal in our lives or the world can lead to bitter disappointment and endless trying. But our everyday wants- to get to know someone we've just met, for a good night’s sleep, to have an object of particular beauty- can direct us deeper, can help us find what’s important to the soul. We have to peel away the layers. A seemingly superficial desire to be liked by someone may reveal the very real human need to feel connected to others, and beneath that a longing to feel at home and held by something larger that is both within and around us- to experience belonging to a sacred wholeness- whether or not we are being liked or approved of by others in this moment.

I am making my way back to my own longing. Rereading old journals from ten years ago when my ex-husband and I got together, I can see how I started dropping the threads that had previously led me back to the longing I could trust to help me stay true to my own course in life. In some of the writing I hear a voice I hardly recognize as my own talking myself out of knowing what I knew about myself. On some level, despite all I had learned and all I knew, I must have believed this was necessary to be in this relationship. And, given who my ex and I each were and are, the choice may well have been between being with him or being deeply with myself. As I read about my struggle to sidestep this choice I can see that I tried to stay connected to and guided by my own essential longing, but I missed all the cues, all the signs that something else was happening. I am not blaming my ex for this. But gradually, to be with him, I disconnected on some essential level from who I am.

Very humbling, a little frightening, and simply human.

One of contemplative prayers I do daily sets the intention to be aware of my needs, wants and desires. Having asked to be aware of these three I then ask to see how my needs (that which sustains life on all levels) may be met without doing harm, to know the deepest desires of my soul that they may guide me, and to come into right relationship with my wanting. Because wanting can be tricky. Right relationship with wanting is about being conscious of wants as they arise- wanting to lie down and rest; admiring a pair of new boots; being drawn to talk with someone- and being aware of how they point to deeper desires which may or may not be met by the person or situation or thing we want in this moment. I may decide to lie down and rest, talk to someone who attracts me, or buy those boots. But being conscious of my wants and being able to discern the difference between these and my deeper soul-longing means I will not suffer if there's no immediate opportunity to rest, if the person I am drawn to doesn’t want to talk to me, or if the boots are too expensive for my budget.

Being conscious of our wants means we are less likely to fall into being unconsciously driven by them. Right relationship with our wanting means remembering that what matters most is our conscious connection to the deeper longing of the soul that can guide us in being who we really are.

It’s good to be home.


  1. your topic is a dear friend of mine. thank you for your writing today and i look forward to following your threads in your process. i happily anticipate this because your words are such beautiful guides and sojourners for those of us choosing to walk deeply inward, courageously facing all that arises, gratefully sharing with others who dare to do the same...

  2. This post does not read messy or tangled at all, in fact, it seemed to read very clear to me. Perhaps because there are those of us who can identify! Thank you for putting your feelings into words, it is helpful and encouraging as I attempt to do the same in my life.

  3. Lotusphx, funny several other folks on FB said the same thing re: the messy business. I think it just felt messy to me- or at least I felt some trepidation about whether or not I was being clear. I think you are correct- it may be understood because it is a common human experience.

  4. Too funny. Lately I keep coming back to, "Be careful what you wish for." With much loss in some areas, yet much gain in other areas of my life this year, I find myself questioning why I want certain things, why I miss certain things, and what that gaping void is deep inside me. Your post has me thinking, you spoke quite clearly, I think.....thank you:)


  5. A Face to the beautiful poem! How wonderful to find out who you were, and what you looked like, I had no idea that you had a web-site......and better still that I could read your inspirational "tidy" experiences, thanks for sharing them. `It doesnt interest me' was passed my way about 6 years ago, when I was at the first `sign post' of my journey to home, my awakening was and is profound and the photocopied paper with your words on have never left my little bedside drawer, it was there at the start, and has never left my drawer or my heart! I want to thank you so much..........sending you light. D

  6. I'm also a new devotee of your website, having just finished re-reading The Invitation book. I also copied the poem over 12 years ago, and have loved it since. Your journey is both personal and universal to all of us. I, too, have recently understood how I shut down my own voice to be in relationship, have done it my whole life in so many ways, and am now facing the grief. Thank you for sharing your insights. You are a beacon to us all.

  7. Oriah,
    I just wanted to say thank you for recommending "Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life" by James Hollis a few weeks back.
    Much like your own books that spoke to me long ago, this book has changed me.
    I could almost hear the click as his words registered in my brain, no wait, in my soul, resonating so deeply that a new understanding of my life emerged from the swamplands, leaving me wholly different. ...feeling real (and in charge of my life) for the first time in forty two years.
    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  8. Amy, so glad you have gotten something out of the book- one of my favourites. Just came from a day long workshop with Hollis on the Shadow. He was great- clear, inspiring, challenging and supportive for the human journey.

  9. Oriah, It's funny how out of the blue I am drawn to this computer and find myself at your blog. It's also funny how paralleled your and my life always seem to be, based on the experiences we have in common, and the timing of when I happen to come upon your happenstance. With the magic of technology, I find I am right in line with where you are at the moment, in too many ways, though I'm not even sure where that place is, or why I seem to feel it is an emotionally better place, though at times it feels quite bleak and empty. Funny, but your writing seems as clear and organized as your thoughts can be in this moment, and I feel less alone in reading it. I too am divorcing this year, after 21 years, and find I am seeing the same patterns of hiding or leaving pieces of myself behind, not because I was asked to, but because it seemed somehow necessary to making my relationship work in the moment. It certainly wasn't conscious at the time, and I am working hard to be conscious now. I find I am, like Hansel and Gretel, picking up breadcrumbs, like pieces of myself, that I believe are leading me closer and closer to home, as I become more and more wholly myself again. Who I am now feels both familiar and yet very strange, as I realize the lessons I have learned and the knowledge I have gained first hand in this journey. And what a huge part of this process faith becomes, as we travel on a new road that we cannot know, because we have never traveled upon it before, but something within us knows it is the path of our soul's journey. The voice inside you reference, I call it G.O.D. -Guidance On Demand- that personalized compass inside of each of us that tells us where we must go to get what we need in this life's journey. Sometimes it feels like we're driving blind, but keep the faith, Oriah, and remember the magic is real and we are never alone... it's just not possible.

  10. I ask myself, how your words could be so deeply rooted in my own soul. I see that the ego is the guide in our wants and the spirit in our desire to esteem the needs of others more than our own. Contentment is key...contentment frees us to appreciate the longing and the lack. The days of plenty love and the days where loneliness grace our lives; days we have clarity and wisdom and understanding and the days when nothing makes "sense" at all. I say rejoice in it all and know that it is enough to have taken the journey that has no arrival.

  11. "We will never be happy with what we want, if we aren't grateful for what we have".

    I had a hard time with this concept during my marriage considering all the examples of things I really wasn't grateful for, but after staring intently into the reality of why my marriage died, I realized it was true.

    I could have been far less focused on what I wasn't getting, and more focused on what I was withholding, and that alone would have created a closeness that too often was relegated to the shadows.

    I think sometimes we are so hyper vigilant about noticing what isn't going well for us, that we miss endless opportunities to create the very moments that we yearn for.

    When I think of all the positive things that I have going on around me now, three years after my divorce, their isn't one of them that has come about from a focus on what is missing in my own life. Every single contentment that has developed, has come from noticing how I can be there for someone else. And like everything else in life, what I given out has come back in spades.

    Do I really believe that being grateful for the not so shiny parts is still the way to go? Even more. Because the crap is what made me look for the gold and THAT makes the crap gold as well.

    Brian from Maine.

  12. Brian, the longing I am talking about here is not about a lack of gratitude- nor is about seeking fulfillment of this longing in some kind of check list. It is longing that is a guiding light re: what matters most- and when we lose touch with that, we lose our way.

  13. From someone who needs to open the door
    I find myself standing at your door. I can relate to the blog. I too am on a spiritual journey. I am hungry for ways on how to do this finding myself entangled. Perhaps I should be patient and just listen for spirit to speak. thank you for that. until next time---marylou

  14. Marylou- you might find the latest newsletter helpful. It's at

  15. Oriah isn't the proof of what matters most, revealed in the experiences we've created, that ultimately we have either endured or reveled in? What is it that let's us know otherwise. How do we know if we are being true to our calling or just inwardly distracted.

    I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the results of my focus. When my focus changed, my life did too.

    I have a sense that our longings have a lot to do with being loved and maybe just as important, being accepted. IF that is true then inward gazing is a distraction to the more fulfilling outward focus on loving.

    My longing to be loved and accepted became a reality, as soon as that longing no longer was my primary focus. And the experiences that have followed seem to bear that out. I don't want to dismiss a deeper level of understanding. I just wonder sometimes if we dispatch too quickly, the effect of simply changing what we choose to notice. For me it has had an empowering effect.

    Brian from Maine

  16. Brian- I have never found deep, honest inward contemplation to be a distraction.(In fact, of all the things people choose for distraction from life, this does not even make the list.) On the contrary it has connected me (and others) to that which is beneath and within all the lovely clear hopes and goals. The longing itself points to the very real limitations of the rational mind that can deliberately shift focus and get different (and often very worthwhile) results. This longing I speak of is not results oriented. It is about the soul's ache to know the Beloved, the Mystery, God- and the longing itself is the guide. This does not take away from daily life but deepens the experience of what it is to be human, to live in this world, to love and be loved.

  17. Thanks Oriah. It is a different prospective. I will think on that. I look forward to more.

    Brian from Maine