Part One: Longing

(Part One : These things which move the spirit)

“Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.” – John O’Dohonue

These words open O’Donohue’s poem “For Longing” and were read on my first night at Rivendell Retreat during the five o’clock community worship. Our community host read them with an invitation to reflection at the end of each stanza, a short poem stretched out in moments of breath and contemplation, bringing the beginning of my stay here to a focused question. What am I longing for that brought me to this place? What longing brought me to a course on spiritual enlightenment this year? What triggered my pursuit of formal meditation as part of my academic inquiry?

I’m afraid my longings, the words that floated above that night’s reflection, are somewhat pedestrian: love, belonging, tranquility – an end to the inner voice of doubt, anxiety and self-criticism. These desires unite all people, though we may choose different paths in our quest to fulfill them. I am not someone seeking an answer to all the big questions in life – I do not believe in a god or an afterlife or a grand design and am not disquieted by my lack of belief. But I am endlessly curious about what makes a good life, and in ensuring that I do not accidentally mislive this one chance I am given.

I recognize how much time I have given over to things which do not matter, how often I have tried to force situations in a misguided notion of the greater good, and that I have listened too often to the inner and outer voices of negativity and despair. I see how quests for social change, for personal privilege and social status have disturbed my more fundamental needs for quiet and stability. But I do not want to turn those strivings into another grasping thing which I believe the spiritual path can become. The desire for states such as enlightenment or revelation can be as destructive as other drives when pursued by the goal-oriented ego. And so I reject these concepts from my longing, though I leave a door open for the possibility of any state to arise in practice as in daily life.

Still, it is dishonest to claim I am seeking nothing in my studies and in my retreat, especially as I intend to continue meditation and inner work. My longing is best summed up as a desire for self-love and self-knowledge, neither of which I possess in the measure I would like. My life is rich with material comfort, social community, romantic and familial love – none of which I take for granted – but a constant unease undermines every interaction with others and with myself. Which is to say that I live with a certainty that I am not good enough, deeply flawed, and unlovable despite all evidence which tells me otherwise.

My longing then is simple: I want the negative voices to go quiet so I can hear my own life sing.

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