A month ago, I attended a retreat/conference in the gorgeous woods of Northern North Carolina. Big picture windows lined one wall of the main meeting room and leaves fluttered through the air outside as the keynote speakers engaged us in thinking about dreams and self and spirit and soul. I wish I could have stayed forever. Every minute of my time there softened, shifted and shaped me. I returned a different person, more of who I really am, than I could claim when I left.
But the most important moments of my time there, the ones with the most profound impact, happened in the most unexpected place. I selected a workshop on Saturday afternoon called "The Transcendent Function of Longing" - a big title I didn't completely understand and I am not at all sure I really understand it yet. The small room filled up quickly and we crowded together, making the best possibly use of the cramped space. I ended up in the back, behind the AV equipment, which only worked in fits and starts, and required much shuffling and shifting around from two gentlemen seated next to me. Under most circumstances, the setting itself would have been enough of an annoyance to distract me from the presentation. On top of the physical uncomfortableness, I was keenly aware of several people in the room, including one outspoken woman whom I'd found myself disagreeing with several times over the course of the conference (mostly internally) and my own analyst. Tess' presence, both at the conference and in the room that afternoon, turned out to be a gift to me, but I felt her presence acutely each time I found myself sharing space with her that weekend.
I wish I could capture the presentation in words. I can't. It simply defies description. But that two hour time slot now resides on my list of top five most important moments in my life. As soon as Donnamarie Flanagan, the presenter, opened her mouth, all of the oxygen left the room - yet at the same time I inhaled the deepest sort of breath. She told the story of the reed flute, and read us a translation of Rumi's poem, and in my soul something clicked into place. I recognized myself in every sentence. Deep within me, my self wept with relief at finally being understood.
All of my life, I have searched for a way to fill the longing inside of me. Sometimes my choices lead me to places where I can take a drink, and quench the thirst for a moment. But always, invariably, the searing thirst returns with a vengance. And the longing seems strongest just after the moments in which I've had a glimmer of hope that satisfaction was near at hand. When the longing returns after a mountaintop experience, the only framework I've had to evaluate my own process pointed over and over again to some monumental failure on my part. "So close, but not quite there. What is wrong with you? Why can't you find something and just be happy? You let it get away again. You must not be worthy. That feeling you want is God you know - and if He won't stay with you - it must be because you are broken - too broken to ever be fixed." So whispered the voices in my head and my heart.
But in Donnamarie's simple offering of grace, I felt something shift inside of me. She hovered over the jumble of puzzle pieces of my life, and slightly turned several of the sections already under progress, and gently tapped the connecting pieces into place. And suddenly, right there before my eyes, the picture made sense for the first time. The sense of longing I feel is the presence of the divine. Occasionally, the flutes all play in symphony, and ecstatic connection occurs. But only for a moment, not permanently. And just on the other side of that experience of community and connection often come the loneliest moments, filled with the most longing. Not a failure, but a contrast - one with awesome power. Because in those moments, creativity sparks. So the very thing I've fought against all my life, the swift switch from mountaintop to valley, holds the most potential.
The key, the trick in it all, comes in honoring the longing. Instead of trying to escape it, fill it with all sorts of business, I must simply sit with it, and find what needs to be expressed. For me, that expression comes most often through writing. So this morning, I am at my keyboard. Yesterday held connection and community. This morning brings the ever so familiar wash of emotion. But rather than give those shaming voices purchase - I choose to honor the longing with words. I choose to sing my reed flute song hoping that in it's music, there is hope and healing and wholeness - for me and for anyone else who hears.