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Identifying the things you long for can reveal deep truths about yourself. The Five Longings can show you how to work with these desires to live in a happier, more satisfying way.
If you’ve ever had a vague sense that something’s missing from your life, congratulations: That longing for something better is a sign of being fully human, fully alive. But what’s even more wonderful, according to Dave Richo, is that when you identify and carefully examine the things you long for—like love, meaning, freedom, happiness, and growth—you not only discover deep truths about yourself, but you also find that the things you long for were never really “missing” at all. He provides enlightening advice and practices for accessing just this kind of profound self-discovery , illustrated by a wealth of examples from depth psychology, religion, and literature. Our longings in fact point to the presence of something transcendent in us, he shows. In seeking something better, we are seeking that which we already are.
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About the Author
DAVID RICHO, PhD, MFT, is a teacher, workshop leader, and psychotherapist in Santa Barbara and San Francisco, California. He combines Jungian, transpersonal, and mythic perspectives in his work. He is the author of numerous psychology/self-help best-sellers, including How to Be an Adult in Relationships and The Five Things We Cannot Change.
Read an Excerpt
The Five Longings
What We've Always Wanted - and Already Have
By David Richo
Shambhala Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2017 David Richo
All rights reserved.
Our Longing for More
The more we love, the more we long to love. ... Our whole life is nothing but longing.
— Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing
Our innate longings remind us that it is not wrong to want more out of life or to refuse to be satisfied with a life of less. Longings are carefully drawn maps of our needs, our drives, our hopes, our challenges, our fears, of who we are, of who we can be. Let's look at each of these:
Our longings are vital needs for what we require in order to grow. We long for what we instinctively know is necessary for our personal development. In order to be fully human, for instance, we need love, meaning, freedom, happiness, and challenging experiences that help us evolve. These needs began in early life. Every one of the five longings hearkens back to our childhood needs, wishes, and dreams. As adults we ask ourselves how well our childhood environment helped fulfill our longings — or at least made room for them. Our longings were never signs of neediness, only of our full humanity pressing for recognition.
Our longings are drives, inner urges based on our needs. We have drives for food, shelter, and other necessities of survival. We also have drives for more than survival. What helps us thrive are precisely the goals of the five longings. Our drives are based on motivations to reach certain ideals. Each of the five longings is an ideal we strive for, a value we cherish and want to fulfill.
Our longings are hopes. Regarding the five longings, we hope for love; we hope there is meaning in dreadful or puzzling events; we hope for free rein in our life choices; we hope for peace within ourselves and among nations; we hope to grow beyond our limits, both those that are self-imposed and other-imposed. Having no longings left in our hearts would make life superficial, a plunge into despair indeed.
Our longings are challenges. Each asks us to step up to the plate in a way that threatens our comfort level. In every longing there is a call to change. That makes longings scary to have and to pursue. Some of our longings are for a change in how things are or who we are. We are then faced with some inner contradictions: We may long to be what others are, or what we think they are. On the other side of that coin is regret about who we are now. We might long for how things were in the past as we remember it. That can be illusory since longing is imaginative and creative and may redesign the world we came from. Our longing for the past can depict it in colors that captivate us in the present. Yet, the original colors may never have been quite so vivid.
Our longings also reveal our fears. Each of our longings can scare or stymie us. Most of us are ambivalent about longings. We might have gone through so many disappointments that our longings now put us on guard. We therefore prevent ourselves from fulfilling our longings — often unaware that we are doing so. In addition, we may have received messages telling us we do not deserve to have our longings fulfilled, or even to have them at all.
Our longings are descriptions of who we really are. We find our distinctive identity in what we long for, how we long, and why we long. A desire for a Hershey's chocolate bar is for the same product no matter who wants one. A longing is different in everyone. The love one person longs for is unique to her and so is her version of meaning, freedom, happiness, and growth. This uniqueness is how longings reveal who we uniquely are. Using an analogy, we might say there are five continents on Planet "Me." Like all continents, each is unique, yet all are related.
Likewise, the significance of longings changes according to the phase of life we are in. So does the manner in which we feel satisfied by them. For example, in college freedom might have meant uninhibited experimentation, while in motherhood, freedom involves applying our unique form of parenting and maintaining our individual identity while parenting responsibly.
It is true that longings are not fully attainable or lasting in their fulfillment — they can only ever be somewhat fulfilled and then only temporarily. However, it turns out that such limitation is a feature only of the palpably conscious dimensions in us: physical, mental, sensate, emotional. At a spiritual level, in our deep being beyond our ever-changing ego, more is going on. In our identity beyond personality, personal history, and varying feeling states, all five longings are sitting mindfully in us as lively energies. We seek to fulfill the five longings, yet they actually are filling us. Love, meaning, freedom, happiness, and growth are five qualities in our higher self. "Higher" refers to our identity beyond ego. Our ego, on the other hand, is focused on that which is different about each of us. The higher self is the same in all of us — why we can say we are all one. Coded into us is an impulse to actualize this wholeness. The five longings describe that impulse, always emergent, never finalized, yet we are always also whole. This is the mysterious path of a longing, already here and always on a journey: "what we've always wanted — and already have."
The five qualities, always alive within us, emerge as longings we seek to fulfill in the world around us. In other words, longings are the echoes of our inner wholeness. We are trying to act out with others something that is already fully accomplished in the depths of our being. Deep within ourselves we are love, have meaning, are free, are joyous, are evolving. To use an analogy, we are doing what Christian belief says that God does: God is love and seeks it from us. Mystically speaking, both God and we are seeking what we are. Sri Ramakrishna expresses it well: "O longing mind, dwell within the depth of your own pure nature. ... Your naked awareness alone, O mind, is the inexhaustible abundance for which you long so desperately."
We don't easily access these qualities of our "own pure nature." Some of us don't even believe we are and have them. Our self-doubt gets in the way. Nonetheless, growth in self-esteem can help us reach our inner riches. Advancing in spiritual consciousness can help us appreciate them as graces. This book attempts to usher us in both those directions.
Just as the five longings are the qualities of our higher self, they are also the attributes of our psychological self. Love, meaning, freedom, happiness, and growth are what our individual lives, relationships, and selves consist of. Each longing houses and awakens a part of ourselves. Thus, we gain psychological health and self-esteem as we:
appreciate our longings as natural ingredients of any fully human life;
let go of blaming ourselves or others when our longings are not met all the time;
say yes with equal thanks to the dividends of fulfillment we receive, be they limited or abundant.
With practice, we can create a holding environment for our longings. In that accepting and hospitable atmosphere, we hold our longings lightly yet firmly. Then we appreciate times of fulfillment. It is also acceptable to us that our longings are not being fulfilled right here, right now, or all the time. Instead, we are continually on serene lookout for opportunities to find some fulfillment. In relationships, this satisfaction with "some" helps us not expect or demand too much of one another. Paradoxically, as we will see, this will be precisely how our relationships begin to foster the fulfillment of all five longings. Acceptance of what is fosters evolution into what can be.
Living with paradox — not giving up on attaining the unattainable — is what gives us depth. Regarding the unattainable, Gordon Allport, in Becoming, wrote of healthy psychological integration: "Salvation comes only to him who ceaselessly bestirs himself in the pursuit of objectives that in the end are not fully attained." The fact that "salvation" — fulfillment and integration — can happen along with unfulfilled pursuits is the paradox of our human story.
Longings are open-ended and thus inexhaustible: We find ourselves in experiences and bonds that just can't be fully understood, let alone satisfied fully. We never love or are loved enough, once and for all, for a lifetime. Likewise, we will always seek more meaning, freedom, happiness, and growth. So longings can help us settle into the realization that there are no final answers or total satisfactions. We then recalibrate our expectations of ourselves, others, and the world. What a quandary life is: We can't end a longing yet we can't let go of it either. No wonder we are people with such agonizing heartaches and such bewildering feelings. Yet, the fact that we and the whole cosmos are incomplete is precisely what makes us long for what it takes to survive and thrive:
Without a yearning for love we would not fulfill the need for connection that is necessary for our survival.
Without a sense that our life and life itself has meaning we would have no goals, no purpose, no dreams, no ideals — all of which drive us to be creative.
Without freedom to be ourselves we would never emerge into our full identity or fulfill our unique potentials, the public appearance of our wholeness.
Without inner peace we would be bottomless pits of neediness lost in the stress that harms our health and well-being.
Without challenges assailing us we would not expand ourselves, swell to our full dimensions, launch ourselves on the expedition that a life is designed to be.
Longings thus reveal the human psyche in its fullness. Our hearts are longing-shaped after all, though our longing-shaped hearts are destined never to be completely filled. It is easy, therefore, to understand why humans are so enamored of the possibility of heaven. We want a place where all longings are utterly, fully, and finally fulfilled — and we don't mind waiting a lifetime to get to it.
Here are some affirmations that can help us contact the place in us where our five longings reside as qualities of our inner world while we still feel them as longings echoing into the world around us:
I let myself feel how loved and loving I am.
I am grateful that I am loved and loving.
I hold my longing to be loved and loving with openness for what
more may happen.
I cherish the meaningfulness of my life and of all that happens.
I am grateful for how meaningful my life is.
I hold my longing for meaning with openness for what more may
I enjoy my own liberty.
I am grateful that I am free.
I hold my longing for freedom with openness for what more
I contact the joy that remains in me always.
I am grateful for the joy within me.
I hold my longing for happiness with openness for what more
may come to be.
I tap into my ongoing evolutionary impulse. I am grateful that I am always evolving toward more love, wisdom,
I hold my longing to keep evolving with openness to what next
I am an ongoing experiment in love, meaning, freedom, happiness, and growth. I trust that these are ineradicable capacities in myself. At the same time, as longings, they are ever unfolding, ever innovating, ever renovating — the style of our whole evolutionary world.
Why We Will Always Long
We will always long because we are always evolving. Our longings mimic the evolution of the universe: ever complete yet ever going for more. Evolution likewise means both transcending and including. Nature goes beyond what went before while holding on to what has worked. We, too, in our longings, transcend where we are and at the same time are what we were before and are what we will be.
At the most basic level, our personal evolution is about how we, like all things, can adapt to environmental changes. More than that, we are evolution conscious of itself, so we can also advance in skills to caretake the world around us. Each of the five longings is a contributor to this conscious evolutionary impulse in us:
Love as connection leads to cooperation.
A sense of meaning in life makes us more likely to take it seriously.
We cooperate and respect the web of life best as free beings who want everyone else to be free too.
Our happiness grows as we feel ourselves to be effective in cocreating a world of justice, peace, and love.
Our urge to grow is precisely what it takes for evolution to be what it is, development and progress.
The evolutionary drive in us also explains why we long for that which eludes our grasp. We are geared to grow, expand, be more than we are, orient ourselves to an emerging future. What makes us keep wanting what we know we can never get enough of, or have in our possession once and for all, is nothing less than our evolutionary nature. Each of us is an incarnation of evolution inciting us to join its ever-onward, ever-enlarging, ever-deepening progression. Without longings for more we would be left behind in the desert of Going Nowhere, where our wildest human possibilities hit the dust.
We understand that longings are sometimes fulfilled but never finished. In a longing we want more but not because of a deficiency; we want more because more keeps opening to us and from us as fulfillment occurs. This is also a quality of evolution: a continuous unfolding into more than what had been before, with no final outcome. Emergent properties keep appearing and enacting themselves into being. In a world like this, our personal longings for more-than-what-has-been are ways of honoring the onward urges we were born with. Our yes to the fact that there will be no final perfect version of ourselves or of anything is honoring the fact of impermanence.
The word continuous also applies both to evolution and to longings. This is because in both instances a moment of advance or fulfillment leads not to a final destination but to a new threshold. We find not an end but a next step. Once again, we see how the heroic journey is a way of describing our evolutionary urge.
Evolution includes challenge and responsibility if it is to be conscious, deliberate, effective. We humans have an enormous capacity for abusing what has been entrusted to us. We are sometimes inclined to trash our planet rather than take care of it. We are sometimes apt to harm our neighbors rather than show them respectful love. Thus, in a positive evolutionary movement each longing brings with it a rallying cry to tend the world around us. Spiritual practices help us respond:
We do not simply seek love, we show it unconditionally and universally. Our longing leads us beyond our near and dear to planetwide loving-kindness and compassion.
We look for meaning in all that happens, especially in what comes unbidden. We respect the significance of every individual person. We engage in meaningful work and relationships with a respectful sense of their depth, import, impact.
We support programs and laws that guarantee the freedom of others. We want to root out prejudice in ourselves and welcome diversity. We also let go of our ego's inclination to be controlling in our relationships. We seek partnership, not domination. Likewise, we do not let others control us.
We aspire to happiness not only for ourselves and those close to us but for those we dislike also. In our loving-kindness practice we ask for happiness for all beings worldwide. We are no longer selective.
Our longing to grow both psychologically and spiritually does not end with us but rather opens us to caring about the growth and welfare of everyone. We look for ways to be of service so that all of us can progress along the path to justice, peace, and love.
We now see that evolution articulates the impulse to find and be more. We are not content with anything small and limited; we want what expands us. Giacomo Leopardi, the nineteenth-century poet and philosopher, wrote, "Human discontent is proof we are made for the Infinite." Longing is a spiritual impulse since "more" means transcendent, a higher power than ego. We therefore long for more than any fulfilled desire can satisfy. We recall what Emily Dickinson at age fifteen wrote to her close friend Abiah Root about "an aching void in my heart which, I am convinced, the world can never fill."
There is a god in us who, stirring, kindles us.
— Ovid, Fasti VI
Something Gets Us Going and Keeps Us Going
We were born with the five longings tugging at our hearts. Each of these at some time became activated by circumstances and people. Each day we brush up against one or all of the five longings. We also experience times when none of the five is being fulfilled. Here is an example from my own experience. I was happy to have lunch at a restaurant with Jeff, a scientist friend. Being in his company felt like a loving experience. The conversation was challenging and meaningful, providing freedom for me to express my opinions and be myself. Thus, all five of the longings were being fulfilled in that hour and a half. When I left on my bicycle, everything went into reverse: I did not feel loved by the drivers of autos on the city streets. The ride was not particularly meaningful or joyous. I was not fully free but on guard for danger. And finally, I was certainly challenged by the traffic but not in a way that helped me grow and evolve, only to help me survive the contest and arrive home safely. Fortunately, whenever my ride takes me through Golden Gate Park, all bets are off and the negatives delightfully turn into positives.
Excerpted from The Five Longings by David Richo. Copyright © 2017 David Richo. Excerpted by permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Our Longing for More 8
Why We Will Always Long 14
Something Gets Us Going and Keeps Us Going 16
What All Five Longings Have in Common 19
2 Longings, Desires, Addictions 23
Both Desires and Longings Are Teachings 29
Wanting More, but Not Addictively 31
3 How Longings Challenge Us 36
When We Find Abundance 39
If Nothing Lasts, Why Seek? The Answer Is Yes 42
How We Let Others Know What We Long For 46
Moving toward Fulfillment 52
4 Our Longing for Love 55
What Happens in Relationships 58
Tending Our Relationships 61
5 Our Longing for Meaning 68
Projecting Too Much Meaning 70
The Ever-Unfolding Yarn 74
Our Interior Framework 78
Appreciating Metaphors 82
6 Our Longing for Freedom 88
From Compliance to Choice 91
From Compulsion to Choice 97
The Compulsion to Be in Control 99
7 Our Longing for Happiness 102
Preventing Our Own Happiness 107
Contentment, Courage, Wisdom 110
8 Our Longing for Growth 113
A Challenge from the Past 115
Evolving into Adulthood with Self-Esteem 120
Integrating Psychological and Spiritual Growth 123
Moving Out of Procrastination 125
Our Pilgrim Soul 128
Assisting Graces in the Dark 129
9 Questions That Don't Go Away 132
The Heart's Shy Reply 135
Riddle 1 Is There a God? 139
Buddhist and Jungian Perspectives 144
Real Presence 146
Riddle 2 Why Is There Evil? 148
Loving the Unlovable and Forgiving the Unforgivable 152
When We Have Power 156
Epilogue: The Last Mystery 161
Appendix: Loving-Kindness Practices 165
Loving-Kindness and the Five Longings 168
Working with Our Obsessive, Judgmental, or Worrisome Thoughts 169
The Practice of Forgiveness 171
About the Author 175