Sometimes it’s a subtle nudge. Other times it’s an insistent desire. We can’t tell if we’re being pulled toward something or pushed away from something else, or both. All we know is, we can’t stay here.
Frustrations mount. Powerful emotions like sadness and anger cloud our vision. We know we’re not happy, but we don’t know why. Things feel stale, old, and uninspiring. How do we break out, and when we do, where are we supposed to go, what are we supposed to do, and who are we supposed to be?
This cosmic restlessness drives us like a lash. It impels us to sail oceans, cross continents, climb mountains, write symphonies, create solutions out of problems, draw healing out of woundedness, and forge justice out of suffering. Everything great every human being ever did came from this one source: our sacred longing.
If we are a spark from the Divine Mind as the Stoics taught, or if we are a manifestation of Brahman as Vedanta teaches, or if we are a mixture of matter and spirit as the Bible teaches, or if we are all Buddhas waiting to awaken as Buddhism teaches, then the energies that move through us are not entirely our own. We are fountains through which the holy waters flow. Our only duty then is to stay open to what is trying to move through us, as us. Our lives are the way the universe heals itself.
In his poem Each Note, the Persian Sufi poet Rumi (1207-1273) put it this way:
God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain.
Remember the lips
where the wind-breath originated,
and let your note be clear.
Don’t try to end it.
Be your note.
I’ll show you how it’s enough.
Go up on the roof at night
In this city of the soul.
Let everyone climb on their roofs
And sing their notes!
In Rumi’s image, the world is God’s flute, and each need coming through us is a note from that flute. Therefore, our yearning to grow, to create more, to have more, to be more, is a sacred longing born not from ego or fear, but from the divine flow that pours through everything around us. It’s the budding of the blossoms on the branches, it’s the powerful tail stroke of the humpback whale swimming thousands of miles home to its calving grounds, it’s the discipline of a young medical student pushing through the impossible conditions of residency, it’s the courage of the soldier running toward danger to save a wounded brother-in-arms. In this sense, our passions are not our own – they’re a message from the source. We are called to manifest our potential, keep our divine appointment, and honor our roots by daring to bloom boldly and humbly. Our own happiness is impossible without this alignment. If we fail to give way to what is trying to arise through us we not only dishonor our source, we also rob the world of whatever ripples our loving would have stirred in others. It is not for us to say no. We must always have the holy word upon our lips – yes.
Another Persian Sufi poet, Hafiz (c. 1320-1389) put it this way:
Now is the time for the world to know that every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time for you to deeply compute the impossibility
that there is anything but Grace.
Now is the season to know that everything you do is sacred.
If Grace is all there is, if all aspects of realty exist in a single, vast, interconnected web, then we can rest in the knowledge that we are supported. This means that our own best thoughts, intentions, convictions, passions, empathies, and actions are also woven into this same singularity. And if you learn how to be still through meditation, contemplation, yoga, prayer, sacred service, reverie in nature, or aesthetic rapture you soon feel for yourself this interweaving grace. No one has to tell you about it, explain it to you, or prove its existence. Your own unimpeachable experience confirms its existence, even, its primacy.
And then finally you can dispense with this “I’m not good enough” business. That tired mantra is shown for the lie that it is. We wake up and realize that our imperfections are part of the process. Awkwardness is natural in any evolutionary transformation. The doe can hardly walk when it’s newly born. The wings of a just-hatched bird are good for nothing but wild gestures. So too our efforts often pale in comparison to a conceptual ideal. No matter. There is music and majesty in the simple effort to be good, to reach farther, to be more. The vision of flight comes before the flight, every time. Vision and intention have the power to arrange outer conditions until they align. You are good enough, because there is nothing but grace – and this truth is shown to us over and over again through the lens of our loving.
In her poem Wild Geese, American poet Mary Oliver puts it this way:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
It isn’t mysterious. Our love shows us where to turn. When we “follow our bliss,” as Joseph Campbell put it, we feel in our bones that we are finally, fully alive. Our sacred longing, our wordless loving, the unassailable convictions born only in the clarity of direct experience all lead us toward our own best life. We don’t have to wonder anymore. We know what to do. As Rumi put it, “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”