When I think of longing, the first thing that comes to mind is not psychological theory. As you might imagine for someone with a deep interest and study of psychoanalysis, to not make a dash for Freud, desire, delayed gratification, object relations, melancholy, guilt, and patience when longing is mentioned is a bit odd. Longing is such a big part of early development. Attachment, separation, independence, love, relationships. Longing is present. We are born longing. A longing to return to the womb the minute we leave. To have all of our needs met automatically. To ask for nothing. Receive everything. This is a longing.
Yet, When I think of longing, the feeling of longing, I am reminded of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is not a gentle reminder, but a formidable pull from a strong current of how I feel when I read his work. Wanting each word to last the page. Like they are floating to me on a warm breeze, slow, heavy, languished. If I try hard enough I might catch one and get to remain in the story unending. There is no sadness or excitement. It is different from desire. I do not wish to take action, but just to be able to sit with each page, while I turn to the next. Please don’t let it ever end. I long for his words. I long for his characters, I long for his stories. It is the same way that I long for Ireland. Not to return for a few days, but to be able to get lost there. In the green. In the winds. Until the longing passes. However long that is. If it ever passes. Just leave me to the green. The rain. Leave me to the song of Ireland.
Writer David Whyte in his book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words writes.
“Longing is nothing without its dangerous edge, that cuts and wounds us while setting us free and beckons us exactly because of the human need to invite the right kind of peril. The foundational instinct that we are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world, that we are a form of invitation to others and to otherness, that we are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds. In longing we move and are moving from a known but abstracted elsewhere, to a beautiful, about to be reached, someone, something or somewhere we want to call our own.”
I appreciate the idea of longing being a movement from a known to an abstracted elsewhere. An ideal, dreamy, place where there is a right thing for us, whether that be a relationship or otherwise. I also appreciate the idea of dancing with the right kind of peril. We find ourselves here often. There is excitement in this manageable amount of peril. There is just enough danger. Just enough risk. Just enough desire. And I wonder how important it is for the longing to be met, but how the act, the presence of longing fills us up so much. Takes up so much space. Leaves us less to reflect upon in the things that surround us. The emptiness of our real lives. Suddenly we are full. Filled with something that we have constructed. A fantasy. And we like being here. This dangerous edge. Even when it hurts.
So what does this look like? What’s the hard science here? Well it’s pretty interesting actually.
A 2020 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that prairie voles showed activity in the nucleus accumbens - the same reward center that lights up during heroin or cocaine use, when reunited with a monogamous partner. Think the classic running through the airport romantic cinematic reunion scene. The longer the animals had been paired before separation, the closer their bond and the larger the cluster of activity of this part of the brain. Scientists concluded that when it comes to longing, mammals experience a similar feel good reward center as rather addictive narcotics. The same rings true for love. The release of chemicals in both scenarios override our systems to seek out these situations because the ultimate result while might not be pleasurable or ideal long term, it certainly feels perfect in the moment. Longing helps us reunite after long periods of time. In short, Longing keeps us together. Interesting, right?
And maybe that’s where my longing comes from. For the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. For Ireland. A history. Time spent with words, characters. Time spent with a country. A bond. To reunite is to receive a rush. A high. Even if imagined. Is strong enough to keep me in the fantasy.
For more on LONGING listen to JOY IS NOW Episode 52 with Mimi Young