We live in a system of meaning that isn't defined by our participation. A pulsing, collective vibration that continues to thump and surge long after we make our exit. Some days life feels like a strange sport I've been invited to spectate, rather than play. When this disconnection arises, there's a clear separation between what's happening in my mind and out there, in the world. An underlying sense of restlessness and disassociation takes hold. The feeling is like being tired, but different. I'm not depressed, or despondent, I'm just distanced. As if I've wholly forgotten the goal line: belly up, picking blades of grass and popping daisy heads on the field of life.
Where do you go without a compass? When lost in the wilderness, there are useful tools to find your way. You can look upwards, towards the sky; use the sun to locate East and West, or the stars to find True North. You can utilize a peak in the distance or a landmark, such as running water, to orient yourself. That is, if you have a general idea of where the hell you are, or where you're headed.
The problem is, in the emotional landscape of existing, there are rarely references as obvious as a beaming light in the sky. Though many look upward still when lost, relying on a belief in God or Spirit to direct their aimlessness and offer purpose. Others gather their gear and trek towards that reference point on the horizon; a goal or vision that helps them to see beyond their closest surrounding. Titles, career, babies, a summit. Something tangible in the distance that you can set your sights on.
But hey, if you're like me-lost in a desert with no clue what you really want most of the time-you can't use these survival techniques to wander your way out of the Sahara. I know I'm not alone, because I've spent a lifetime reading books penned by authors whose lives are defined by a similar sense of longing.
"We recognized in each other a common longing and lament-for the faraway and wild, for the loss of both from the world." -Katie Harris
Longing is a hunger, a thirst, an immovable lust. It's an odd and uninvited discomfort with what is, and a fantastical obsession with what is not. The discord between the two creates a valley of un-directed exasperation that can be incredibly difficult to slog your way through. What is happening in the space between us and the things we want, but cannot identify? What does yearning for something distant but unknown signify? How can it be so tender and fickle for some of us to just feel Good with a capital G?
"Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances." -Robert Hass
Perhaps this is why we cross oceans and climb mountains, seeking a pinnacle or point at which we might feel different. We are trying to reduce the distance, the spacial concept of longing. We leave one lover for another, one job for another, one city for the promise of something unknown under different street lights. We crawl through this indiscriminate pining, grappling for a foundation or experience that calms our disenfranchisement. We ache to be at Home in a universe that spins regardless of whether we play or stay. My feeling is that some of us are born with a restless spirit; our lives will always be punctuated by the recurring discomfort of a longing for something we just can't quite qualify.
“For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not." -Rebecca Solnit
|Mt Adams peaking out in the distance|
*Photos from the Boundary West Trail at Mt. St. Helens*