NOTE: This is the first draft of the “Longing” essay in my forthcoming book, Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas.
Responses and comments welcome, no matter how brief.
Copyright 2013 David J. Bookbinder
A writer I knew some years ago collected her poems into a book she planned to call The Color of Longing.
My longings have come in many colors and many shades. Much of my life has been spent in a condition of longing: longing for love first from my parents and then from girlfriends, longing for knowledge, longing for peace both within myself and on the planet, longing to create truly beautiful work, longing for a career that feels meaningful.
Longing can feel like a painful kind of pining, but it often helps to propel us in the direction our organisms need to go. Much as a dandelion inclines toward the light, finding its way through cracks in the pavement if necessary, so longing can move us out of our complacency, our comfortable discomfort, into the gap between where we are and where we long to be, and it is in this gap that meaningful change becomes possible. Without longing there would be little new in our lives.
When I was a teenager, I read a collection science fiction stories set in a future where all people are telepathically connected, either due to a mutation or by machines that link minds to minds, hearts to hearts, memories and thoughts to memories and thoughts. The narrator, a badly wounded survivor of a helicopter crash, loses this connection when his telepathic device is damaged in the accident. To keep from being driven mad by the anguish of the sudden separation and isolation he feels, he retells the stories of his race, beginning with the first, persecuted, telepathic mutants. When his rescuers finally arrive, the first thing they do is reconnect him telepathically.
At that age, I also was isolated, but only while reading these stories did I became aware of it. Resonating with the narrator made me feel my aloneness, and, like the injured pilot, I began to long for connection, too. This longing inclined me, for the next 35 years, to a series of occupations – writing, teaching, counseling – that increasingly stretched my connection boundaries. Over the decades, my longing has moved me 180 degrees from where I began.
For some 40 years I have been conscious, as well, of a spiritual longing, and it has compelled me to explore many religious practices and the depths of my soul. Since my early 20s I’ve been especially drawn to Buddhism and Sufism, and although I’m still just a beginner and inconsistent in my practice, I pursued each far enough to be initiated. Part of Sufi initiation is receiving a name. Mine is a seeker’s name; it translates roughly to “One who longs for the Beloved.”
It may be that everything longs for the Beloved. French philosopher, paleontologist, and Jesuit priest Tielhard de Chardin, one of the discoverers of Peking Man, believed that the universe is evolving toward increasing complexity and consciousness, drawn by a transcendence synonymous with God.
I have often pondered how self-aware species such as ours fit into the grand scheme of the universe. Why, I wonder, have we so long been driven to build, and in particular to build increasingly complex artifacts that extend us physically and mentally? This building and stretching seems purposeful. I think it is only a matter of time before what we build reaches sufficient complexity to achieve sentience, and that as we continue to push out from our blue globe, extending our boundaries ever deeper into the cosmos, we will take this new sentience with us.
I hope that other sentient beings, on other worlds, are engaged in similar endeavors, drawn by their own longings to extend themselves and their reach. I can imagine a day when our Earthbound intelligences, both organic and mechanical, will reach across the chasm between stars and join together, not only with each other, but also with other sentient beings. If, as de Chardin hypothesized, the evolution of the universe is incited by a ubiquitous longing for the Beloved, then perhaps our role as conscious creatures is to become the nervous system of the great body of a universe slowly realizing its single, integrating consciousness and at last joining with the object of its longing.