You know what I’m talking about. I know you’ve experienced it, if you’re human. And I’m not just talking about the “I want his/her hot bod next to mine” kinda feeling. I’m talking about the feeling that seems to emanate from the very core of your being, the one that asks “what else is there?”, the one that lives for the possibility that there IS more to live for, the feeling of knowing something is lacking but being unable to express exactly what that is.
This feeling, I think, must also encompass hope. As C.S. Lewis says, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity). We hope that there is something out there that can meet our desire.
Different psychologists talk about this feeling of unmet longing in different ways. Some (Freud) say it’s just our biological drives for pleasure and aggression that provoke longing (or in his way of thinking, anxiety, when our urges go unmet as they often do).
Some (Fairbairn) think that since our parents didn’t perfectly meet our needs (physical or, just as importantly, emotional) when we were infants, we end up internalizing concepts of what we wished our parents could have been for us. It’s the infant equivalent of, “well, if you’re not ACTUALLY going to be here for me, I’ll make you be here for me in my MIND!” We idealize people as adults too. On the flip side, we can also actively reject others in a “you’re not gonna reject me because I’ll reject you first!” type of attitude. Then we go around our whole life long trying to connect with people using a mold based on those fantasy connections. No wonder we long, because we are seeking something that didn’t exist in the first place.
Some (Winnicott) say that we didn’t get a chance to let our “true self” really flourish as a child before the walls of reality came crashing down on our fantasy, egocentric ways of being: “no Mommy, I really AM Superman!!”. Yup, believe it or not, it really is important to indulge little kids’ notions of being powerful and the center of the universe (according to Winnicott, and I believe him). When we do that, we help establish a feeling of personal importance and personal meaning, which is embodied in our true self. Without this sense of meaning, we will be constrained in a false self, trying to meet the demands of the world but feeling empty inside: longing and desiring for something more.
I think these interpretations are great, and help give us a glimpse into the myriad of processes that are going on ever since we were born. However, there is one psychoanalyst who recently caught my attention, because I felt like he was describing the state of my soul. He’s French (harrharrharr, twirl your mustache), postmodernist, linguist, terribly confusing and complex and deep (good thing I just read summaries of his work in English). Jacque Lacan describes desire in this way (summarized by authors Mitchell and Black from Freud and Beyond):
“Desire, the wellspring of passion, is more encompassing than the pursuit of satisfaction and the quelling of need– it is ultimately necessarily ungratifiable. In desire, the child wishes to be totally captivating, to be everything for the (m)other. To truly be everything for the other would be to embody everything the other desires….
This [disconnection from the m(other)] gives rise to Desire… Desire is ultimately unsatiable, because desire is born of the longing to heal the gap…to attain an impossible (imaginary) recollection, to be at one with mother and nature again.”
You might have to read it a couple of times. But for whatever reason, this writing helped give words to a feeling, an idea, a longing, that before had just floated around in my soul.
It smacked me on the face because I realized: I WANT TO BE EVERYTHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE. My desire is to be all that you desire (you=my other). I want to somehow, magically, meet all your needs.
Lacan suggests this desire emerged as a baby, when in my self-centered world, I believed that I was the only thing my mother desired. And when that fantasy came crashing down, man, what a blow to the ego. It’s a painful gap that is formed… a chasm between my soul and the world that can feel interminable.
When I am all that you want, my desire is fulfilled. I am given meaning. I am worth something. Please do not suggest to me that it is not possible to be someone else’s everything, because it feels like you will destroy my sense of self. By being important – by being EVERYTHING- to you, I can believe that I AM important. To settle for less feels like settling for a cheap substitute.
Yet at the very same time, I also know that this desire is inherently unsatiable. I know that as a human, I cannot meet all of another human’s needs. I was not meant to. It’s just… part of being human. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.
(I have a tendency to self-blame and undervalue). (maybe you do too).
Well, what in the world do I do with this terrible endless not-quite-describable feeling of longing, of wishing to be something I cannot be, of trying to create meaning through what I can be for someone else?
I don’t know much about Lacan, so I don’t know if he resolved this. But for me- on my good days, when I can believe with all my heart- I know the answer.
I really, really, believe (and again, I’m not saying I feel this way all the time, but I have experienced it once and sometimes once is really enough) that we are NOT SEPARATED FROM GOD. God is not “out there” watching us, not really caring, not involved. I believe that God is inside every single one of us. Already. I don’t believe you have to ask God to come into your heart, or have a conversion experience, or be baptized. I believe God is already right here. God is part of us… but we are also part of God. What? Altogether. Collectively. God-in-us and we-in-God.
You see what happens to the gap, the chasm, the unspeakable longing?
God is here. God is with us. We are with God.
In the moments I know this, I don’t have to long anymore. You don’t long for something that you know you already have.
And how sweet it is.