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Why do we all feel an immense longing?

Where does longing come from? What do we mean by “where” when we ask this of longing? In asking this, are we asking for the origin of longing in one’s life, or are we asking where longing arises from in the human psyche itself?

I feel that the former question is what most of us concern ourselves with. We may ask this of longing, or of similar aspects of our being like sorrow or joy, and in that we begin to look for explanations through the lenses of childhood, trauma, upbringing, past experiences etc. While these explanations may bring things to light, but, I wonder what is it that explanations of this sort really do for us? Do explanations kill inquiry with a handy conclusion, or are they capable of deepening the inquiry? If the former, then I forgo all explanations, but, if the latter then, let us move forward.

The question I seem to be asking myself is the following: how do we approach this question such that we can discover something new about longing, something that we do not already have an explanation for, or have already thought of before.

To me, longing seems to be a deep movement of the psyche, alive in all humans, irrespective of one’s environment, upbringing, or particular experiences through life. So, to find out where longing may come from, I wonder if it makes more sense for us to first understand what longing is as it moves within us, for without understanding longing, how can we hope to find out where it comes from?

So, what is longing? Can I see in myself what longing is instead of theorizing about it? When I do this, I see that longing is a form of desire, perhaps a desire more intense than most other desires. Romantically, it seems to be a desire for a lover when one does not have one, and a desire for the lover when one does. The particular flavor it takes for me, is that it seems to be a desire to meet another being with whom to explore questions of this nature together, peeling through to the essence of life, and letting this essence guide the relationship. This desire gives rise to a sense of hope, of there being a person out there with whom to embark on such adventures. But with hope also comes fear, that one may never meet such a person, or when one finds one, they may not want to share the adventure together. So, hope and fear seem to be different sides of the same coin that is longing: hope not being fulfilled arouses fear, and when fear runs wild, hope seems to come to the rescue. I feel that most of our energy is dissipated in see-sawing between hope and fear, hope and despair.

Now the question arises: first, what is it that gives rise to desire? Second, what is it that keeps desire, and hence fear and despair, in motion? I don’t know if what I am thinking about either of these questions seems to be in a reasonable direction but here’s a shot at them. Let us say one sees a beautiful person, appreciates their beauty, and that could have been it, right? But no, something more follows in our being, we begin to want this person. What is it in our psyche that transforms sensation into desire? When I say desire, I do not mean the way in which a child desires an object. The child may desire an object but take the object away, and the child may cry, but it doesn’t continue to seek the object on and on. Longing seems to be a flavor of desire that is sustained.

So, what is it in our psyche that gives rise to desire from the bare fact of sensation? Whatever the factor is, it is happening extremely fast, almost unnoticeable. When there is sensation, there is just a sensing, not a me and the other person, there is just seeing, without a subject and an object. But then, at once, there is me, the observer, and her the observed, and a separation arises between the observer and observed. What is it that brings this separation between the observer and the observed into being? Could it be thought that creates the feeling that there is a thinker, separate from what is being seen, and this separation creates the possibility that there is now a thought by the thinker to be united with the one observed? This is not to say that if an animal does not think, it will not be drawn towards another animal. This is just an inquiry into the question of whether thought is responsible for a fragmentation where an instantaneous attraction is projected forward in time manifesting as desire to possess.

To me, it seems to be the case that thought creates and sustains desire by concerning itself with other moments of time which are not the present moment. While the psyche is always functioning in the present moment, it is thought that brings time into movement in the psyche, bringing the past and the future alive in the present moment. Thought thinks of an image of a certain way it would like the thinker to feel, and then begins to pursue this image.

In a romantic relationship, this image making tendency is especially alive. We meet a person and before we know it, thought starts building an image about the other person, of how we would like to be with them in the future. Soon an image of how we would like them to be also comes into being. But, however close the image may be to reality, it is still an image, and therefore bound to create the possibility of conflict with reality: a conflict between what is and what should be. Most of our energy seems to be dissipated in this conflict, in trying to bring reality to align with the image we have in our mind, exhausting us in the process.

Now all this may seem like we are blaming thought to be the source of conflict in our lives. Does that mean it should be suppressed or tamed? Not at all! Any suppression or taming desensitizes a being, and without sensitivity, how would one meet the delicate affair that life is. Would it be fair to then ask if observing and understanding the movement of thought, as it is, with great care, can bring an insight into the movement of longing? Could it be that such an insight into the movement of thought and longing may then bring these movements to their right places in our psyche? What their right place is, I am not sure if one can know beforehand, because the movement of the mind is extremely dynamic and ever-changing, and therefore the intelligence we are speaking of can only be alive when there is an observation of the whole movement in the moment at hand.

So, to me, it feels like thought is what gives rise to longing, and keeps it alive. I also feel that because we do not observe and understand the movement of thought deeply, thought may not be in its right place in our being, which we know from the fact that our thoughts can often be a great source of our misery. This means that longing too may not be in its right place, which is why it causes such despair when not fulfilled. Can we then ask what the right place of longing in life may be?


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