Human Longing

 Photograph by Chelsey Taylor

Photograph by Chelsey Taylor

Human Longing
by Michelle Katz

During this time of year, when we change the clocks and the night rapidly encroaches at 5pm, we are asked to have a new relationship with the darkness-- to the realm of shadows. We instinctively begin toto look to the stars for light and direction. The chamisa, not too long ago avoided due to its uncomfortable allergic reaction as it released its late-summer pollen, now provides the much appreciated glow in the moonlight that lines the path I walk. The soft sands and soils I once walked upon barefoot are now flattened by the flood of waters, or chilled by the cold snow. A layer of rubber now lays between my feet soles and the earth.  A veil lives in our lives this time of year, with our layers of clothing, our hunkering inside, and a general going within.

But tonight, on my walk, I thought of longing. An elder spoke to me about my recent break up, as I expressed by heartache. She said, “sometimes it’s like a phantom feeling, like when you lose a limb and you can somehow feel its still there sometimes, because in our hearts and minds, it’s supposed to be. I walked, thinking about this wild thought, being with my longing in the space of darkness and shadows-- needing what I once avoided to show me the way. As I walked, I felt the distance of things not showing their fully textured form, the shielding of my being with layers, a separation from nature’s embrace my skin had grown so used to in the warmer months.  

As I continued on this dark path, I noticed in the silhouette of a great juniper, an outline of a man’s face looking toward the starry sky, mouth open, his expression grief stricken. The light coming through a crack in the dense green showed up to be a single teardrop down his cheek. His expression was heartfelt- almost as if he was grieving. As if he had forgotten that he was part of the greater universe and longed for that knowing once again, but was uncertain how to feel that truth on a regular basis. I found this beautiful image captivating--a mirror of my longing. It occurs to me in this moment that longing is truly just a mask for grieving what was dearly loved and now lost.  -- a universal experience of humankind.

And then my dog began to make the sound of digging a deep hole into the sand, and I wondered more about all creatures longing for the depths. Connection and depth felt deeply intertwined. Soon I began to think of all the people I love, my best friends longing for purpose, or health, or love; my parents longing for an idea of family they do not have, coworkers longing for promotions and homes and stability, people who I know are longing for acceptance or acknowledgement or fame; others who long to be felt and understood. I began to wonder if longing is a deeply human experience.

As I think of the elder’s words, I think of all the parts of self we lose along the way, in our practice of living. Some parts we feel the loss of more dramatically than others, other parts we gratefully bid farewell to, and some parts we don’t realize we miss until much later in our story.  This is all in the practice of learning how to become better at dying. Every small “D” death, prepares us for our big rupture. And let’s face it, humans -- at least in our current modern society, do not “do” death, of any kind, well. We tend to avoid it and fear it. For example, our greatest is loss is no longer knowing our connection and relatedness to the natural world that surrounds us. We have made ourselves separate from our relationship with nature and have not taken the time to grieve or repair it-- we just keep going , business as usual. It is mysterious to me that we feel it is okay to keep on living as we do as I remember the words of another wise woman elder telling me, “What we do to women we do to the earth.” As I walk my own path, I  feel into the suffering of being a woman on this planet and I also feel the earth suffering greatly by our way of life.

The fact of the matter is that humans are deeply intimate beings, we need love and care-- both requiring deep connection. This may be the greatest thing we are longing for but we constantly put these intimate needs in the shadows, where they become difficult to see or know their textures and contours.

Nature teaches us a great many things about this process. Nature in no way avoids or fears the changing of the seasons, it knows these transitions intimately. The interconnectedness of each element responds to even slightest  shifts, and remains present in every change. There seems to be no gripping, clinging, or fear of letting go, but rather acceptance in what is. It seems that the greatest practice that nature teaches me, in this time, is gratitude.  Gratitude for the sun that shines for part of the day, the stars in the sky and the way they move, the wind that blows sand off canyon rock, the leaves ready to depart from trees to become the soil to feed the next season of growth, grateful for the limbs that fall off trees to hold others up as the soils beneath them erode. There seems to be a vast understanding and seeing of all the living beings in their process of change and the gratitude seems to soothe any longing.

And still as I walked myself back home, I felt the longing arise again, the missing of part of me, as I imagine the tree misses part of itself when wind blows its leaves off or its branches fall off, feeling into the longing for what was and a settling into what is.  And just then-- a bright and powerful a shooting star streaked across the sky, as if to say, “I see you, I’m with you, you belong, you are part of this earth.” In that moment I felt a burst of feeling connected and grateful, that healed the longing.

The more we connect to nature, the more we can feel this belonging. Join Oaks Counsel to remember your connection to nature, your belonging to this world, in a meaningful way.