Friday Dispatch: How to Listen to Longing
The wisdom of moderation
An unexpected window of unscheduled time brings options. Will I go for a snowy woods walk? Dick around on the internet? Finish writing the prompts for the two-week group that begins Monday? Lie down and snuggle with the dog?
As it turns out, none of the above. Instead, I sit at the kitchen island sipping a latte. The washing machine just clicked off, revealing a level of quiet I hadn't noticed wasn't there a moment ago. I hear my spouse's pen moving across the pages of their journal, intermittent fridge sounds. Outside, a spot of sun illuminates snow-covered trees and the sky hints at a pale shade of blue through the bare branches.
I yawn. The tiredness is familiar, signaling a longing less for sleep than for something deeper though I cannot say what exactly. I feel a stirring, the kind Stanley Kunitz speaks to in his poem, The Layers: “I am not done with my changes.”
When this happens, two extremes tempt me.
One is to just lie down, quite literally. To become dormant. And while I love napping, this pull can also be a form of avoidance, recalling the Rumi lines, “You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep.”
The other is an impulse to throw everything overboard and start something completely new. While there may be some seeds of goodness here, the all-or-nothing approach leaves some glaring holes in what I might learn if I listen to my longing in more moderate ways.
Moderate? It sounds boring at first blush. Who wants to be moderate? We want passion! We want purpose! We want direction and fire! But I suspect moderation contains some wisdom for me, especially when longing is trying to get my attention.
Instead of reacting to extremes – ostriching or overhauling – what happens when I allow myself to daydream? What happens when I give myself permission to consider other paths and possibilities for myself? What happens when I turn more gently towards my own heart?
As someone who has spent the better part of my career working with people around questions of identity and direction – in life, work, and writing – you'd think I would be fluent in the language of exploring my options, considering my strengths, and listening to my own desire.
But I am, first and foremost, human, and we humans are a complex lot. Fear comes into play (what if I step in a new direction and things don't work out?). Judgment, too (you worked this hard just to give up?). And don’t forget about shame (why can’t you just be content for a change?).
The dryer is running now, and the dog is snoring ever so quietly, her smushy face mashed up against the edge of her bed. I am alone in the house. I am nearly 50 years old. With one of my children rolling along the exhilarating runway to starting her post-college life and the other maneuvering the throes of later adolescence, my role as a mom requires less and more of me somehow at the same time. My work is meaningful and fulfilling, and I am proud of what I have created.
In a word, life is life-y.
I find myself wondering what else I might do in the world and especially crave more in-person engagement in my work. In the past, I loved tutoring ELL students, elementary-aged kiddos in reading, and working with recent immigrants. I continue to contemplate Jewish spiritual direction as training I might pursue, and realize the next step could be simply to take one course in the fall. I’m actively submitting two manuscripts of Jewish writing to publishers and trying to be patient with the process.
Moderation feels calmer and more trustworthy than extremes that eclipse the goodness of what is already here. As my yoga teacher instructed this week, “You need stability before you can expand.”
Let the foundation of your life be a bolster, not a hindrance, to your curiosity. Love what is and let it keep changing. Love yourself and let her keep changing, too. And above all, take it slow. You don't have to know everything right now.
Just as spring always comes, longing emerges and finds shape in the world in its own time. What if you keep paying attention to the smallest signs? What if you notice the glimmers, the smallest buds and bright chirping from within your own heart?
Shabbat Shalom and love,
Two Weeks of Writing Practice – Starting Monday!
Three Little Words: March 6-17
THREE spots left!
Do you long to get to the page, but have trouble starting or being consistent?
These 10 prompts, spread over two weeks, will support you in doing both of these things. Plan to write for 10 minutes a day (ish), share your writing in a small group where you’ll be met with kindness and encouragement, and remember how it can be so much easier than you think.
Register here: www.jenaschwartz.com/three-little-words
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