I seek You. My soul thirsts for You. My whole being longs for You.” — Psalms 63:1
I had the great privilege to be in pulsating New York City last week for an Encounter staff retreat. While I was there. I had the sublime opportunity to be embraced in a prayer circle with Netanel Goldberg. This was an opportunity to breathe and sing my desire, full volume, open-hearted.
And, after two hours, I could rest. Also, at the closing of the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, I threw my body around in dance for hours, and then similarly, I could be at rest.
This desire is not a spectator sport that seems to be allowing me to sit nice and neatly in worship. For some weeks now I have been acutely aware of a sense of longing, feeling it more strongly than ever before. I don’t know if it has always been there but I have blocked in out in one way or another — or if it is actually coming up now in a stronger way than it has before.
It is important to say that it is a longing for nothing in particular. Sometimes it is evoked by an intimate conversation. Kafka says that all sin in born as a consequence of impatience. So too with me, sometimes I think it is about needing to have this or that person in my life, close up, in order to feel whole. And really, this is definitely a work in process, but I am pretty convinced there is no content. Any projection of content would be trying to fit something foreign into that God shaped hole. It is painful. It is present. It is persistent. Sometimes I try to forget it, to push it aside. Perhaps other times in my life I was more effective at subduing it. I think cutting sugar and wheat out of my diet has made a difference. Also I have been doing release work on my diaphragm with the master David Attoun, which has really opened up my breathing and let go of things I was holding on to.
As we enter into the labor pangs of the birth of the world, as Rosh Hashanah is known, I find myself in the deepest, most painful longing I have ever known.
We say during the month of Elul that “the King is in the field”. Excusing the masculine image, we are talking about a proximity and availability of
the Divine that is ripe at this moment. It is good to have a spiritual paradigm to give context and holding to these intense feelings.
I also just read Highly Sensitive People, that also helps give me a way to frame the intensity of my feelings. I am part of the 20% of people who can be defined as “highly sensitive people”. We experience the world intensely, sometimes even as an assault. We can learn how to take care of and use our gifts in service of the world — as well as in enjoying rich, deep, inner lives.
Sometimes, the intensity of these feelings brings up fears that maybe there is something wrong with me, perhaps I am going over the edge. I will call this “mental health oppression”. We live in a society in which not all forms of emotional expression find their place openly in daily life. We may see those who express themselves more freely being marginalized in some way. I am grateful for my access to emotional expression and discharge and at the same time I notice some fear and shame that it can bring up — as I express myself.
So I sat on my Jerusalem porch from before sunrise on Shabbat morning in the white morning sun — air still thick with dust — and it felt like I was being burnt up by this longing. I kept breathing and it was like I was both dying and being born from this longing.
Then I thought about the relationship between longing and creation. We can breathe in — and we can breathe out. We can create. We breathe our desire into the shofar and it produces a sound. Each of our longing produces its unique song, even with the same shofar. As I sit on what feels like a precipice of letting the fire of my desire burn my path forward, I am trying not to resist, to keep on breathing, not to push down, not to deny, to keep on breathing again. And keep noticing that even when I allow myself to enter into it, it never stays the same. It is always changing.
I am talking about those deep desires that come up in our minds and bodies and we squash down quickly because we can’t bear the intensity of them. Or we can’t bear the way they make us feel. I would love to hear your stories and songs of longing. Perhaps if we can long together it is somehow less painful.
May we have the courage to feel our deepest desires and allow them to forge our path forward.
God speaks to each of us as [S]He makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me.
Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
— Book of Hours, I 59, Rainer Maria Rilke