Longing (shawq) is a state I am quite familiar with. Since my youth, I have yearned for some future life of mine where I was prosperous, wise and beloved. I yearned for a place I belonged, a companion who understood me wholly and never hurt me, a career where I helped many and a time when I would grow gorgeous and perfectly proportioned (naturally). Now, in certain respects, I checked off many of those boxes. But has that made me content? Not. one. bit.
There is a well-known Muslim tradition in which Prophet Muhammad says:
If the children of Adam were given a valley of gold, they would simply desire another.
Indeed, it seems as though we are destined as a species to be stuck, longing for that which we do not possess. Some traditions would say that the very longing that human beings experience is their cause of suffering.
While Sufis would agree longing for the wrong things (material goods, fame and fortune etc.) will likely lead to misery, they also consider longing the very thing that allows a human being to ascend the heavens and reach spiritual perfection and ultimate bliss. Without longing, many Sufis believe human beings would not have the motivation or drive to keep moving forward on a journey that is more often than not long and arduous. Thus, longing acts like the magnetic force that, when understood in its reality, helps the human being approach the furthest reaches of the cosmos.
The trick to harnessing the power of longing for good is, from the Sufi perspective, to recognize that everything you have ever desired or will ever desire is really just your soul calling out to the Divine Beloved in the best way it knows how right now. If you are desperate for fame, the Sufis would argue that your soul is trying to send you the message that all you really want in this world is to be seen. Indeed, all you truly want is to be seen and acknowledged by God (in the ultimate sense, being seen by Being itself).
Finally, the Sufis always insist that longing is not a one-way street. Many Sufi traditions point to the reality that what you long for most is longing for you even more, i.e. in your longing for God, you must recognize that God longs for you even more fervently. The Sufi tradition sees the relationship between God and humankind as one of two lovers seeking for their reunion.
Find a quiet place to sit and keep a piece of paper and pen handy. Take a deep cleansing breath with your eyes closed and ask yourself, “What do I want right now?” Allow your mind and heart to wander to whatever you desire. On one side of the paper, write down everything that comes up. Close your eyes and take another deep breath and ask yourself, “What do I long for in my life?” Allow your mind and heart to wander again and record what you find on that same first side of the paper. Notice the difference between the two lists. Was one harder for you to tune into than the other?
Take a deep belly breath, feeling your abdominal area fill up and then deflate. Now look gently at your list. Read every entry slowly and with deep attention, and after every entry, ask out loud, “Yeah, but, what am I really hungry for?/ What am I really seeking? /What do I really want?”
Keep asking yourself that question and see what comes up. What are the deeper desires and longings that lie beneath the surface? Right down your beneath-the-surface longings on the opposite side of the page. Are there patterns?
Armed with this knowledge, turn your sheet over and brainstorm three different ways you can healthfully fulfill one of your deep longings. To overcome feeling undeserving, remind yourself of Rumi’s wise words: What you seek is seeking you. Explore fulfilling your needs in ways that are healthy and that nurture you, ultimately bringing you to a place of greater realization and self-understanding.
May you be filled with peace,
Next, we explore the sixth station of Trust (tawakkul), the single most effective practice for the cultivation of bliss. Stay tuned!
For the introduction to this series, click here.