Absence and Longing

parabola2The current issue of Parabola magazine is focused on the theme of “Absence and Longing.”

Longing is in my consciousness often … and yet for me, at this point in my life, absence and longing don’t much go together. If anything, I seem to long less for what I don’t have and more for what I do have. I realise that doesn’t make much sense — I’ve found only one small echo of this idea in the articles, poems, and essays in this issue of the magazine — and yet when I experience a sense of longing, it’s usually in the same moment when I experience union, presence, fullness, some kind of poignant, bittersweet, liminal moment. I rarely feel that I miss someone or something absent, and yet when that person or thing is present, I often feel a sense of longing, of desiring what is.

Some words that have caught my attention in the magazine so far (I’m about halfway through):

“Longing, then, is not only a feeling of incompleteness but also, and above all, a desire for a lost completeness. Mystics have long known this ‘dark presentiment’ as the spiritual ferment of self-realization and union with the Divine.” — Patrick Laude, “A Blinding Proximity” … I like this nostaligic sense of longing.

“[A]bsence is always the result of our inadequacy to be fully and perfectly present to the Ever-Present. In a certain sense we make ourselves absent from Presence …. In another sense, Reality appears to recede and withdraw from us simply because we have usurped its territories, and to the extent that we have and continue to do so. But what can absence be when Reality is Presence? Presence is everywhere. There is not a single inch of reality without Presence. … So what is absent, and for whom? We experience absence, and lack, and deficiency. But this absence is ultimately ours. All spiritual guides and mystics have made it clear: it is not God who does not speak, it is we who do not listen.” — Laude

“Buddhist training is the process of gradually softening our habitual resistance. The Dharma keeps telling us to open our hearts and let go, but we keep qualifying this letting go, looking for loopholes in the Dharma and searching for attachments we believe will not cause problems. Yet anything we grasp will help to turn our hearts away from this one, true longing.” — Kinrei Bassis, “The Buddha Calling the Buddha”

“To yearn for someone is to feel their lack: to yearn for another is not an expression of one’s own deficiency but of one’s glimmerings of enlightenment. For in acknowledging that I miss someone or that I long for them, I am acknowledging that I am larger than I had at first thought. I realize my heart is wider and incorporates many other dimensions of reality, for which, if they were to disappear, I would yearn. When I miss someone, the melancholy tug at my heart indicates to me that I have incorporated this person’s presence to such an extent that I feel incomplete without them.” — Rabbi Marc Gafni, “The Path of Yearning” … I wonder if it’s possible to have incorporated someone’s presence to such an extent that I feel complete because they are so fully present within me, no matter where they are physically and geographically?

Gafni talks about a core practice of his, an “intense meditative focus on songs of yearning and desire.” He says that “in this practice we allow ourselves to step into the full experience of the separation. We allow ourselves to feel the great distance between ourselves and the fullness of divine reality. We step fully into our longing for realization, enlightenment, and redemption. We allow ourselves to stay in the emptiness and to feel our pain. Not merely our individual pain, however. … Through the longing expressed in the tear [the kind we cry], we enter the great tear, the rent in the Kosmos. But at some point, if we can avoid the temptation for superficial fulfillment and genuinely remain in the emptiness, the superficial emptiness gives way to … the deeper emptiness which is empty of anything superficial and filled with the ultimate embrace of fulfillment and love. Crying of yearning gives way to crying of union. The separation itself — in its very depths — is revealed as but another disguise for union.” — Gafni

“The Beloved knocks on the door of our heart and calls to us to return Home. Then nothing in life seems quite right; something is missing, but we do not know what. There is a dull ache in the unconscious that begins to force itself upon our attention. Slowly the outer world loses its attractions, and it begins to dawn upon our consciousness that we want something else, something that does not belong to this world. Then the spiritual search begins.” — Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (Sufi teacher), “The Pain of Divine Love”

“Our culture has forgotten and buried the doorway of devotion, and the lover is often left stranded, not ever knowing the real nature and purpose of the longing that tugs at the heart. …. We need to reclaim the sanctity of sadness and the meaning of the heart’s tears. This intense inner longing is the central core of every mystical path, as the anonymous author of the fourteenth-century mystical classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, simply states: ‘Your whole life must be one of longing.’ The heartsickness of the lover is a longing to return to the source in which everything is embraced in its wholeness.” — Vaughan-Lee

“Longing is the pain of separation and at the same time the affirmation of union.” — Vaughan-Lee

The Voyage

Oriol Vall, who works with newborns at a hospital in

Barcelona, says that the first human gesture is the embrace.

After coming into the world, at the beginning of their days,

babies wave their arms as if seeking someone.

Other doctors, who work with people who have already

lived their lives, say that the aged, at the end of their days,

die trying to raise their arms.

And that’s it, that’s all, no matter how hard we strive or

how many words we pile on. Everything comes down to

this: between two flutterings, with no more explanation,

the voyage occurs.” — Eduardo Galeano, “In Time” (transl. Mark Fried)

“If we can bear to face our longing instead of finding endless ways to keep satisfying it and trying to escape it, it begins to show us a glimpse of what lies behind the scenes of this world we think we live in. It opens up a devastating perspective where everything is turned on its head: where fulfillment becomes a limitation, accomplishment turns into a trap. And it does this with an intensity that scrambles our thoughts and forces us straight into the present.” — Peter and Maria Kingsley, “As Far As Longing Can Reach”

I didn’t quote from Hilary Hart‘s essay, “Entering the Ordinary,” on being told by her Sufi teacher to leave him and find God/love in her pear-shaped, heavy, unintelligent, graceless, ordinary dog, but I recommend reading it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s