The Alchemy of Longing

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

February 2021 Soul Notes

Many of my conversations these days start something like this….”I just wish that I could ….” followed by a simple longing that most of us would have taken for granted this time last year. Perhaps to touch a loved one; to share laughter and stories over drinks or dinner; to savour the heat and vibration of a gig, or the collective anticipation of audience shuffles before a show. To feel the warmth of the sun on our bodies or even just to bump into a colleague in the corridor and enjoy the spontaneous moment.

Most of us are wishing and longing and yearning and wanting in these days of sheltered restrictions. It’s part of our human nature. Closely followed by the gripping frustration of not being able to have what we want, which put simply is a wish to be together with those we care for, to learn together, to breathe together, to move alongside each other.

In this time of enforced restrictions, it can be challenging to imagine we have any freedom. I notice that my, and our wanting, often gets dampened by the thought that we can’t have what we want right now. This idea that there’s no point even entertaining the notion because it’s impossible to bring it to life in the real world. These rude interruptions mean that we short circuit ourselves and don’t even get to discover what it is that we’re longing for. However when it comes to our imagination and cultivating a sense of inner freedom, this is fertile ground if we can be aware of these meddling inner voices that get in the way of what we’re truly experiencing.

Here’s a simple illustration:

Me: I really want to meet my friends face to face. I want to sit in the same room with them and not have to navigate a screen between us.

Meddling voice: You know you can’t do that, so don’t even think about it.

Me: But I really want to. I hate that that’s not possible. I haven’t seen some of them for nearly a year.

Meddling voice: Stop whining. Some people are much worse off than you. You’re so lucky. Just cut it out.

Me: You’re right. I am lucky. At least I can zoom them. We’ll see each other soon enough. It’s not that bad really…..

Recognise this? Not an unusual inner dialogue for many of us, I imagine. Some of you may be wondering what’s wrong with it for surely, isn’t this just how things are right now?

But notice how quickly the longing disappears/gets crushed. The thought pattern follows a familiar route of self-denial and reality check that many of us have got used to. The want arises. We tell ourselves it’s not possible. It gets suppressed. What this does is crush the life within us. The spark of fire goes out. Life feels darker and less vibrant.

What else is possible here? I’m fortunate enough to have teachers around me who encourage me to recognise the complexes and interfering voices and to develop a different kind of inner dialogue that taps into both self-compassion and the power of imagination. In this dialogue, the thoughts might go something like this…..

Me: I really want to meet my friends face to face. I want to sit in the same room with them and not have to navigate a screen between us.

Encouraging voice: You do really want to see them, don’t you…’re missing them so much….

Me (initially surprised by the kind, gentle affirmation): YES. I am missing them. Even though I see them on zoom or speak on the phone, it’s really hard to be so far apart for so long.

Encouraging voice: I can imagine. And I can hear how much you really want to see them. So let yourself really feel into the longing. Breathe into it….give it some space……

Me (a bit overwhelmed by the possibility of feeling it all): Oh…ok….(breathing)……it’s hard when I know I can’t be with them…

Encouraging voice: So feel that too….include it all… want to see them, and when you allow yourself the wanting, it’s painful. Just keep breathing and feeling and see what happens….

Me: I feel frustrated and sad….

Encouraging voice: Feel that…..

Me (opening up to a cornucopia of feelings I wasn’t aware of a moment ago): And….oh, I feel warm as I lean into the wanting….I can almost imagine everyone here with me…..

Encouraging voice: Yes. So you can feel the life in your wanting….and feel what it would be like if they were here?

Me (amazed!): I can….I feel really connected……

And so it goes…..a shortened version of the possible dialogues perhaps but you get the picture.

As David Whyte writes in his poem, Start Close In, we start close in with where we are really. We take that step inwards. The hard one. The place we might not want to go. The place of the wanting. We learn these uninterrupted voices and feelings. We feel the feelings - the desire, the pull, the energy, the life. Often in the process we meet all the historical interruptions by our parents, teachers and well-meaning others and we mistake them for our own. This kind of exploration and self-accompaniment allows us to really be with ourselves as we are. The longing, the frustration, the sadness, the peace – the whole experience lived through the body, freeing us to access the incredible resources that lie within each of us. Freeing us to feel that we are alive, even now, even when we have been cut off from so much.

A friend of mine invited me to a birthday dinner at his house recently. He knew it was unlikely but he asked anyway. I thought long and hard about it…..could I quarantine and then bubble with him for the dinner and then quarantine again…..racking my brains for allsorts of possibilities to make it happen. In the end, it just wasn’t possible and sadly I said no. To which he came back and said “No worries…I’ve already had the dinner party in my head and it was amazing”. Whilst I’d been busy in a military style exercise in my head, he’d been partying away, letting himself have the fun anyway. A sobering lesson.

When the journeying outwards is as restricted as it is right now, we can choose to stay stuck in our usual patterns; we can choose to numb and shut down our senses even more than they already are or we can choose to transcend the external restrictions. Reading an article in The Guardian recently about the tragic story of Rwandan musician Kizito Mihigo, who went from national hero to a suspicious death in police custody, I was struck by his reflection (published posthumously) that he had “never enjoyed happiness and joy like the ones I found inside the prison.” He began to connect with a sense of inner purpose and freedom that allowed him to highlight the contradictions in the official narrative of the Rwandan genocide, even though this position possibly led to his own untimely death. An extreme example perhaps. A man in a concrete prison and in the ultimate danger, daring to live his truth, shining a light on what is possible for us all if we dare to head into our inner world.

When we connect with our longing, we connect with the life within us and the life we live is transformed. To be in our longing is to belong to ourselves and here lies true freedom, whatever the external reality. To paraphrase the movie, “If you build it, you will come”. Or at least have somewhere to visit.

With love


Listen to David Whyte read his poem Start Close In here.

If you would like to learn more about who I am and what I offer, please visit my website or instagram.

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