Explore The Wisdom Behind Feelings of Longing

When we sit with our everyday feelings of longing, and get to know them on a deeper level, often we may find what it is we actually want.

I hope you’ve had some opportunities to practice with anger and anxiety from the last two classes. I also hope you’ve found benefit from resourcing and grounding yourself, and noticing what else is happening before attending to the felt experience of a difficult emotion.

We’re going to keep building on our skills—this time with a focus on longing or wanting or desire. For some of us, that might not be a difficult emotion; but for me it really is. I have a hard time with wanting. It feels like an incredibly vulnerable emotion. If I want something then I’ve opened myself up to the chance I’ll be disappointed. I may not get what I want. And in so many situations, I don’t have control over the outcome. In fact, in some situations it’s impossible to get what I want—for example, when something has been lost or I want something impermanent to stick around.

So to me, longing is a vulnerable emotion; but it’s also very important. Wanting is connected to our fundamental life energy: it directs us toward what we want in the world—where we want to go, what we value, what we want to create. Of course, longing can get directed toward things that aren’t healthy for us, too. We can see that with addiction. But when we can stay with that longing and get to know it on a deeper level, often we may find what it is we actuallywanted. Why am I picking up my cell phone for the hundredth time today? What is it that I’m actually wanting right now? Am I feeling lonely and wanting connection? The same thing holds for when I go for my glass of wine at the end of the day. What do I really want? Do I actually want to be able to release and let go and not be responsible anymore?

There’s a great deal of information and wisdom at our disposal when we find a way to stay with the wanting. If we feel into it, be with it, and notice, notice, notice, what’s underneath and inside of it, we can then better decide how we want to respond. 

Once again, this is the art of learning how not to suppress our emotion, and how not to act out impulsively. Our aim is to actually be with these emotions, and in the case of longing, I think of it as the fire of wanting. It’s incredibly creative. Let’s get to know it better.

Explore the Wisdom Behind Feelings of Longing 

Watch the video:

Listen to the practice:

Investigating the Feeling of Longing 

  • 13:40

Read the practice:

1. Settle into a comfortable position. You might be seated, but you’re also always welcome to lie down. Wherever you are, take a few deeper breaths. You can have your eyes open or closed. If open, then I invite you to cast your gaze a little ahead and down from where you are. (Focus your attention inward even if your eyes are open). Let’s take a few deeper breaths. Feel your seat on the cushion or chair; feel your feet on the ground.

2. With all of these practices, let it be an embodied exploration of emotion. So, right now, feel into your body and ask yourself: Is there anything I need right now, anything that I want? Is there anything I’m longing for in this moment? The wanting could be wanting something to be different, something to go away, or wanting a particular experience. Ask yourself: What do I need? What do I want?

3. If nothing really vibrant is emerging for you right now, bring to mind a recent experience when you really wanted something. Maybe you wanted to be seen or acknowledged; maybe you wanted to connect with a certain person, or you wanted someone to call you or attend to you. Maybe it was more physical—you wanted to eat something in particular. Or, if you’re working with any sort of addiction, as we’ve done with all of these practices, let’s start at a basic 3 out of 10 on the measure of desire. How about when you last really wantedto use your cell phone? Or when you longed for a break? Identify a recent experience you had of longing and consider the situation, the people, the place—really bring it around to the experience of wanting whatever you wanted at that time.

4. Once you have it, turn your attention toward the felt sense of the wanting. How do you feel wanting? Where do you feel it in your body? Let’s sit with this for a moment, remembering the situation. Hold this feeling of wanting, and as you do, see if you can identify what it is that you want—I mean, below the particularities. What universal need are you touching upon? Maybe you want respect, ease, or joy. Maybe it’s connection. Just see if you can hold that wanting, what is wanted, and the universality of that.

5. Thoughts and images may arise, but try to hold your attention on the felt experience of wanting itself. If you do get lost in a story about this experience, see if you can cut that off and very firmly but gently reorient your attention back to the felt sense. Maybe it feels vulnerable. Maybe there’s some shame connected to what you want. Maybe there’s some fear. Or it could be a whole mix of how we relate to wanting.

6. See if you can keep dropping down beneath all those other emotions. Let those other emotions flow and keep connecting simply to the need of what is wanted. What is it? What do you need?

7. As we begin to close out this practice, let’s drop in a question here: How could I meet this need?Maybe not answering that need with the original thing you wanted, but considering what other ways you might address that need. What are the variety of ways you could do this? How could you meet your own need for connection? Or for pleasure? Take a few moments here to explore the creative ways this need could be met. And then maybe commit to doing one of those things for yourself.

8. As we come to a close, take a few deeper breaths. Feel your body on the chair, feet on the ground. Feel the contact. When you’re ready, open your eyes.

Throughout this coming week, try to notice your needs. Notice your wanting. Oftentimes, we cover it up with other emotions or we act out very quickly and feed it. Either way, we’re trying to stop the wanting, right? So this week, just see if you can arrive at the wanting and explore what’s actually in there. Then investigate the different ways you could attend to that very real and meaningful desire that you have.

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About the author

Jessica Morey

Jessica Morey is a meditation teacher and coach. She has been practicing meditation for almost 3 decades. She is also the co-founder and former executive director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education, a nonprofit organization bringing in-depth mindfulness and compassion training to youth.