One of my students came up to me the other day and said she felt a deep longing in her heart – a pain of emptiness — and sensed that there must be “something more” to life than what she was aware of. She shared with me that she loved her husband, her job, and her friends, but still felt an ache in her heart as if “something were missing” and she was confused by that. It didn’t make sense. Have you ever felt this way, longing for something more, and not sure what exactly you were longing for?
If so, you are not alone. Many yoga students report at times feeling a strange flavor of loneliness, that persists even when they are around people they care about. It sometimes feels like a nagging, sinking feeling of inadequacy that brings with it the self-deflating thought that “I’m not enough.” Or an existential angst or ennui as if looking for something to fill an un-fillable hole.
To the logical mind it can seem confusing – this paradox of having a great life AND feeling like something is missing or wrong at the core of your being. And there’s often a temptation to rationalize the longing away by saying “I should be grateful, I have a such a good life.” But what if those feelings of inadequacy and longing were not a sign of selfishness, but rather a sacred invitation to find the greater wholeness, peace and well being that you secretly intuit is possible?
What ancient texts have to say about Spiritual LongingIn “Pratyabhijnahrdayam” (The Secret of Self-Recognition) the longing is described as having its roots in dualistic or separation consciousness. A type of cloak, veil or covering called a mala. This veil creates a division between your individual sense of self and your universal, infinite sense of Self. There are three types of veils of separation and each creates a different flavor of sacred longing in the human heart.
1. Unworthiness — Longing to Know Who I Am
The first type of cloak is called Anava Mala and it is often associated with feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, primordial sadness, and a sense of feeling incomplete. The feeling of unworthiness created by the mala is not the same as low self-esteem. It feels like low self esteem, but no matter how much you achieve, accomplish, or perfect yourself or your life this underlying feeling of unworthiness will not go away (although it might get covered over by constant business and striving). Being in touch with the ache of this mala of unworthiness and not-enough-ness, creates a spiritual longing to go “home” again – to find an answer to the ancient question, “Who am I” and remember the totality of your Being – your finite self and infinite Self.
2. Ache of Separation — Longing for Union and Connection
The second type of cloak, Maiya Mala is a veil of separation. It can set up feelings of anger and jealousy from comparing yourself to others and trying to be like them. It can also show up as feelings of loneliness, isolation, and emptiness — feeling uncomfortable in your own skin. It is the veil of separation that splits the world into dualistic parts like “us” and “them.” This paradigm of separation leads one to seeing only distinctions in life and creates a feeling of fragmentation — feeling cut off from some essential part of your wholeness. For some this shows up as a longing for union and connection, a desire to feel more a part of nature, the cosmos, and life itself and a primordial ache to feel a sense of innate belonging again.
3. Impotency — Longing for Ease and Flow
The third type of cloak is called Karma Mala, where karma means action. When caught in this veil one feels impotent, unable to take action, and powerless to make yourself do what you think you need to do. It can lead to a place of complete exhaustion, and the sense that even when you accomplish something, you are “never doing enough” which in turn leads to a cycle of unending worry, anxiety and fear. This predicament sets up a longing for a new way to live – a desire to step off the hamster wheel of life, and live in a more relaxed way, surrendered in service to the evolutionary flow of life.
Why Longing is Here Now
Sensing any of these flavors of longing in your own human heart is a sign that after years of maturation, you are ripe and ready for spiritual awakening. The longing is here now to guide you home — it is a sacred invitation to open back up again into your wholeness – beyond the exclusivity of knowing only the world of separation consciousness. It is a doorway home to a place of greater belonging. There’s nothing wrong with you, although unworthiness, separation, and powerlessness feel uncomfortable, they are sacred passageways back home. This ache for “something more” is a sacred guide encouraging you to embark on the path of spiritual awakening to know and live your True Self.
How Yoga Can Help
Yoga is an ancient technology to relieve human suffering. The practice of yoga arose when human beings found themselves feeling “separate” from the divine, and longed to find a sense of “union” again. When feelings of unworthiness, powerlessness, and longing arise, it’s so easy to turn your attention outward (away form the longing) and chase fulfillment through the material world; but if this is indeed a “sacred longing,” nothing in the outer world will fulfill your desire for “something more.” Instead, the invitation now, is to turn your attention inward, toward the longing itself, to meet this sacred part of you with loving kindness and care.
When you are feeling the ache of longing in your heart, you can practice the following yoga poses to relax your nervous system and focus your mind: Legs Up the Wall Pose, Down Dog (with your head on a block), Child’s Pose, and Corpse Pose. These poses can help remind you that this is a time of surrender. The longing is not here for you to fix, change, or get rid of, instead, it’s here for you to meet, embrace, and dissolve into. Once you are in one of the yoga poses breathe deeply and evenly, bow into the longing in your heart with humility, and open up to the power of Grace. Surrender into the Mystery and trust that you are just where you need to be on your spiritual path — the longing is a sacred part of your journey home..In addition to doing yoga postures, you can also practice samyama – a three step process described in the Yoga Sutras. Take a comfortable seated position and turn your attention inward to your breath. Draw your senses inward to locate the place of longing in your body. Does it feel like a contraction or expansion? Is it heavy or light? Is it solid or permeable? Get curious about the ancient veil, and investigate for yourself what you’ve been running away from for so long. Make the longing your dharana or point of focus. Lean in, get close and intimate with it during your meditation (dhyana), As you become one with your longing, you pierce the veil of separation and open into Samadhi –an equalization of the pressures — and you find yourself at home in your True Self.
The longing is an ancient portal to growing in wholeness and a passageway to reclaiming your ancient connection with the Divine. It is there not because you are doing your yoga practice wrong, but because you are ripe and ready for the deeper practices of yoga – beyond controlling, managing and self improvement – you are ready to open up to know your True Self – the unchanging ground of your being. Follow your longing inward and discover an ancient portal home. As Rumi said, “the door is round and open, don’t go back to sleep.”