Some of my friends and I have been talking recently about longing—that visceral yearning of the heart that transforms ‘ordinary’ desire into a great power that can ignite the soul. The poets of the Sufi and Hindu bhakti traditions were masters of longing. Kabir wrote that it is the intensity of our longing for the Friend, the inner Beloved, that, as he put it, ‘does the work.’ One Hassidic master said to some disciples who were speaking about their practice, ‘Why not become fire?’
I often contemplate the power of those times in my life when longing has been intense. Often, that kind of longing hurts, and its easy to mistake it for emotional pain. The difference between the ache of yearning and the ache of mundane desire is that when you turn into the ache of yearning, it will begin the great work of opening your heart to its own depths. The amazing thing, in my own life, is that once you recognize the power in longing, then you can turn even the ache of an unsatisfied worldly desire, or the ache of missing or wanting a particular person, into a fire that opens the heart. Just as your own ordinary awareness can become a doorway into the great Awareness, your own ordinary desire, if you turn into it rather than focusing on the object or person, can become the fire that ignites the soul.