Notes on the Journey

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What Do You Yearn For?

There is an independent, local bookstore in Albuquerque called Bookworks.  I love this bookstore.  They not only have great books displayed in an artistic and comfortable setting, but they also sometimes put on events and talks by authors.  I recently went to one such talk by a woman named Mary Johnson, who has written a book called "An Unquenchable Thirst" about her twenty years in the Catholic order of nuns called the Sisters of Charity, an order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

I went to hear her speak because the title of her book interested me, for I also have an unquenchable thirst.  And, the fact that she had been a nun, and had the courage to leave after twenty years, is also pretty interesting.  I ultimately didn't buy her book, but very much enjoyed her talk.  I might go back and get the book, but I'm already daunted by the stack of books I've got piled up to read.

It is the yearning that is the central element of her story.  In the beginning, at seventeen, when she entered the holy order of the Sisters of Charity, it was the yearning for communion with God and a need to serve.  And later, as she matures and feels the yearning of other things, it's the need for individuality and creative expression and love and relationship.  But, the yearning is always the thing that keeps us going.  Yearning is central to all of us.  And, ultimately, I think we all yearn for the same thing, although it might not look like that.

The thing I think we all yearn for is to know and accept ourselves.  The yearning for God, even though often manifested in an exterior and searching way, is really the desire to know and accept ourselves...intimately.  Individuality and creative expression come out of our sense of ourselves, and deepen as we live and as our innermost selves are revealed to us.  Our self-confidence comes from our knowledge of ourselves, being clear about who we are and what gifts we have to give and express into the world.

Mary Johnson felt that the way to satisfy and fulfill her yearning was to enter a nunnery and live a life of selflessness, obedience, and personal solitude.  But, as with all things, we don't always know what we're getting into until we're there.  And, once there, wherever and whatever there is, it's not always easy to see the truth of where we are as separate from our yearning.  Our yearning clouds our vision.  We get stuck in the perception that if we just persevere, our yearning will be satisfied.  Our perceived purpose will be fulfilled, and it will all have been worth it.  We sacrifice ourselves in service to this yearning.  We allow ourselves to be oppressed and suppressed, we quiet our voices and obey the rules and directives of those we think know more than we do, or are closer to our goal than we are.  Our yearning is so strong that we'll do anything, give anything, in order to fulfill it.

The mistake in this type of externally focused yearning is that we lose ourselves in it and to it.  We think that by holding to a certain set of rules or dogma--be it of church or institution or corporation--that we will reach the thing for which we yearn.  But, no.  We are always lead astray by thinking that the answers lay outside ourselves.  But, if we're lucky, all of what the yearning takes us through, will ultimately show us that looking outside ourselves, denying ourselves, is not the way.  And, once we figure that out, we'll turn inward, we'll turn to ourselves and start listening to our own inner voice.  Getting lost, for a long or short period of time, does eventually help us to realize that we must turn within.  But, that lonely road of the lost can go on for a very long time.  And, some leave the body without ever realizing the purpose of it all, and without satisfying their yearning.

Every spiritual path tells us to turn within, to listen to that still small inner voice.  And, we can hear that advice over and over for years and years without really understanding what it means.  We might have an intellectual concept of what it means, we might think we know what it means, but actually integrating what it means and embodying the continual practice of it is a very different thing.  And, we're really only on the true path once we start to turn inward.  As long as we are outward focused, we will continue to lose our way.  As long as we look outside of ourselves for ways to satisfy our yearning, we sentence ourselves to endless searching.  But, as I say, the journey can be long.  My journey has been long.  Even though I've let go of a lot and turned inward, the tunnel still looks pretty dark.  The nature of the journey has changed, but the unsatisfied yearning remains.

I long for the day when I feel a solid sense of self.  When the calm of self-knowing becomes more the norm than not.  I'm envious of confident, purposeful people.  Of course, some of those confident, purposeful people might be putting on a really good act, but I'm incapable of seeing through it.  To me, because of my own yearning, they seem to be glowing examples of what I'll never be.  Mary Johnson finally found the courage and the vision to break out of the straight jacket she'd put herself in.  She's now happily married and a successful writer, her twenty years of suppression now fodder for her creative impulses and acceptance into the world at large.  But, I wonder how well she really knows herself, how satisfied her yearning has been.  None of us ever know by looking in from the outside.  And, the only person we ever really know about at that depth is ourselves.

Each and every one of us has our journey to walk, and we walk that journey alone.  No matter how many people we have gathered around us, the walk to ourselves is a solitary one.  I wish for you what I want for myself, to know who I am in the depths of my soul.  To walk forward in the world, confident in that knowing, and to move purposefully from that knowing.  To contribute from the best and deepest and truest core of myself.  This is my yearning.  In this I am incomplete and unfinished.  And so, I keep walking.  What do you yearn for?   

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