I revisited C.S. Lewis recently, a writer and thinker who has meant a great deal to me over the years, and was reminded of his observations of the deep and intense feeling of longing within human beings which, he suggested, no earthly object or experience could ever satisfy. His ultimate conclusion was that we humans were not made for this world, but for another.
It was my personal experience of that very sense of longing that ignited my seeking, and led me to Lewis. He made sense to me for a time, but my longing persisted, my seeking continued. And eventually I was led beyond his way of thinking, beyond the duality of his perspective, because I was not satisfied that my longing could not be satisfied. I didn’t understand that at the time. I only understand it in hindsight.
What I understand now is that we are born of this world, and we are, quite literally, made of this world, for this world. We are deceived by the fact that our feet are not rooted in the ground but able to walk, to run, to jump across it. Our hands can dig into the stuff of this world in order to change it, to fashion things out of it for our ease, our comfort, our enjoyment, and this leads us to all sorts of wild delusions.
More often than not we walk on surfaces we’ve laid down for ourselves, on barriers we’ve placed between us and earth — the pavement of a crosswalk, the tile of a supermarket, the carpet of our home. We put our feet in socks, our socks in shoes, our shoes on one more layer of what’s not really real.
We forget that we are made of soil and water, air and light. Just like trees and crops rooted in land. There is a difference in degree of complexity, but otherwise there is no difference. Corn consumes nutrients from the soil, we consume corn. Our bodies are mostly water, and as we begin to dry out we want more ‘us.’ The air we breath is invisible, so we forget we are breathing. We forget, sometimes, even to breath, so breathing happens for us — you could say we are breathed. We trade gasses with plants and trees, an exchange that seems to work pretty well, which the plants and trees don’t work very hard at either.
This makes it very easy for us to seek more pleasure, more comfort, and forget that we rise from earth, and will eventually return to earth.
We might put off this return with embalming, fancy clothes, a nice wooden box, but these too come from earth, and earth will reclaim them in time. In the end, the earth will win. Earth always wins. In the end, earth reboots.
So to say we are not made for this world but for another is, while not necessarily incorrect, coming from a place of incomplete understanding, or mis-seeing. From looking at this world and our place in it from a limited perspective — the perspective of duality.
Better to say we are made for reality, as opposed to virtual reality. The virtual space of artificial environments, no matter how well-appointed. The artifice of cushions and comforts, of layers that separate us from real reality. That separate us from wind and rain, air and starshine.
The ache is real. The longing is real. We ache, we long, because we feel separation, because we seem to have no roots but do have senses that look for them, want to find them. Those of us who are susceptible to distraction may not see this, or may avoid this sense of separation successfully for a time, short or long. For the duration, even. Others, less satisfied with distraction, feel this longing and can’t account for it. We search the world for fulfillment. We seek. We fail to find because we sift the distractions themselves instead of tracing our longing to its source. We conclude that what we seek is not to be found. Or, as Lewis suggests, that it’s not of this world. That it’s not this created thing we long for, but an other-worldly creator that we seek.
But our being is not limited to or by the objects of this world that we perceive with our five senses, so to limit our search to them is fruitless. What we sense with our senses is duality, and duality is all that can be sensed with them. Longing is inherent to duality, and when we search duality for an end to longing, we are doomed to fail. We are a subject searching for a subject, but objects are all we find.
Unless we project the ultimate object, and call it the subject. An object that is of another world, unattainable in this one.
That, I think, is what Lewis has done.
We fail to find within duality that which we seek, just as a fish swimming the ocean in search of an ocean fails to find an ocean. We conclude we are not made for this world but for another, when that which we seek is so close to us that we can’t seek it.
The problem, the misunderstanding, the mis-seeing, is that what we are seeking, what we long for, is that which we arise from, are made of, and return to. We cannot find it because we are looking ‘out there,’ where it is not. It is right here.
We long to feel whole, not separate, not a subject among objects.
when we stand or sit in silence,
our feet may not be literally rooted, but they take root.
Our hearts are not restless, they find rest.
Our longing, finally, ceases to be longing for something, and reveals itself, simply, as pure longing.
And then a marvelous thing happens.
We see that what we long for is the very thing that we already are.
And at that moment, our longing dissolves in its source.
3 thoughts on “Longing, and the End of Seeking”
I like the fish in the ocean seeking image, and all of this in your kind of new, but not really, voice, that sounds like it’s found its own place. It’s good, and resonates with me when I think about what I’m really looking for when I walk, and why I always feel better and restored. Also in the poems of Theodore Roethke I read last week (The Far Fields), and how he finds comfort with the knowledge of his death by feeling more integrated with the world. Which is a good theme for fall. Peace out.
Thanks, buddy. Focusing on clarity over style, but not wanting to lose style for clarity, maybe that’s what the new-found not-newness is you’re picking up on. I will have to check out Roethke, sounds interesting. Enjoy those walks, and the changing weather. Fall peeked in here this week, but we’ll probably be back to summer by the weekend.
Nice and hi ‘mike.’ 🧐