Hiraeth – making peace with longing, part 3


“The voice comes from your soul. It is the voice of the eternal longing within you, and it confirms you as a relentless pilgrim on the earth” -John O’ Donohue, Eternal Echoes

It can be like nailing jello to the wall to truly understand this elusive concept. Thankfully, it’s more like catching a butterfly in the net to uncover healing words, made available at the exact moment they are needed. For me, writing is the net that captures and strives to observe the flitting beauty that, if only briefly, bows to the effort. And longing is a subject ill-suited to casual conversation. It submits better to the broader pulchritude of artistic or literary narrative.

Hence, this series.

Indirectly, I owe these moments to my anam cara, John O’Donohue, no longer hiraeth-ing, but singing with the angels. “The human heart is a theater of longing,” he insists, “There is a divine restlessness in the human heart [but]…the heart is an eternal nomad. No circle of belonging can ever contain all the longings of the human heart” (John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes).

Soooooo, in other words, don’t expect it to just fix itself or simply go away anytime soon.

O’Donohue, a Celtic mystic like myself, has uniquely and masterfully captured hiraeth. And longing may well be my greatest gift and most insistent Achilles Heel! Since it is an ubiquitous and stubborn ‘friend,’ the drunk uncle of the soul that never knows when to shut up, slurs a lot, and then disappears behind something, how does one learn to embrace and control it? Is such an effort possible? Is it even advisable? How do I make friends with something that so often feels like an enemy? Why does this seem never to touch so many others in the same way it does me?

Longing is a form of suffering. And every great spiritual writer would urge us to make peace with our sufferings; to come to terms with their eventuality, their persistence and complexity; their chaos. To those outside a conscious spiritual journey this can seem like madness, even masochism! It is especially baffling to those given over to the American gospel of therapeutic Deism with a generous helping of Jesus-my-boyfriend yumminess. Simply pursue your dreams in a can-do attitude and a good work ethic and let America do the rest.

The dreams mantra may claim to have answers, but they are for those with a clear sense of what their dreams actually are. My dream is to come out of sleep long enough to see with my own eyes what’s around me instead of drowning in an overly bloated Rob’s-little-dream-world. It’s how to deal with this ever-present yearning that sometimes just gets too heavy to hold.

In this sense, hiraeth can be unhelpful as it acts like a cloak of mourning over life’s common colds, the things we all must bear. Yearning without any hope of the substance of that yearning.

Instead, let me learn to see first so I can make sense of my dreams.

Photography by Laura Aldridge

14 thoughts on “Hiraeth – making peace with longing, part 3

  1. Wondering Celt

    Wow! so many sentences here that go ‘ping’!

    “my greatest gift and most insistent Achilles Heel”…yes indeed!

    “To those outside a conscious spiritual journey this can seem like madness, even masochism”….true, true, true! Never has the lament of the Beloved in Song of Songs seemed to make so much sense…
    “The watchmen who went about the city found me.
    They struck me, they wounded me;
    The keepers of the walls
    Took my veil away from me.”

    But surely, “Yearning without any hope of the substance of that yearning” can’t be quite true, can it?

    Whilst I know what you mean, and I often feel so jolly hopeless myself, to the point of desolation, we’re not without hope of the substance, are we? Maybe we will not experience the substance in this life, no – agreed.

    But like Sunday, it is coming friends, and until then, “..faith is the substance of things hoped for..” – surely? Is this our consolation?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love your thoughts here. Fear not, friend, I get to that “substance” in my final piece in this series. I’m setting up our usual “under the sun” experience before giving voice to the deeper vein from which we should draw our nourishment; a vein of genuine promise and the substance of things hoped for…not just “felt.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wondering Celt

        Sorry didn’t mean to jump the gun!! Very much enjoying your take on this subject. Real thought and creative expression herein! Thanks

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wondering Celt

    Oh forgot to say I just read a memoir about a year spent with nomadic herders in deepest Mongolia. For many reasons, the life style is one that is terribly hard. Beyond hard, in fact. To a comfortable Westerner it almost defies belief. And yet the resilience, fortitude and determination of those people groups (Tuvans, Khazaks and Mongolian) to maintain their traditional way of life speaks deeply to me as I seek to sustain my chosen course……

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I find this exploration you are on so fascinating: I’ve never thought of longing as suffering. Rather more as the reminder that I am connected to something larger than myself. Indeed perhaps the result of making friends with suffering. And indeed from the outside, it can look like madness. I was sharing w. someone the other day about a difficulty I was having and she told me to tell such inner demons to “f—off”. I was shocked! But that is New Age America. Not the journey of a mystic. Blessings on your path.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The reason I call longing part of suffering will become more clear in upcoming posts. Longing is the experience of the exile. As such, it is very much in keeping with suffering. However, all our sufferings have been subsumed into something much, much greater. It is to that end I direct my ongoing investigation.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for inviting us into your experience of trying to make peace with hiraeth. My heart feels heavy with longing today—longing for what? I’m really not sure… but your words, “Longing is a form of suffering” and “…a homesickness for a home to which one can never return” resonated with me and helped me find some solidarity in the midst of my own longing.

    I’m reminded of a passage from Wendy Farley’s book “The Wounding and Healing of Desire”. She writes, “Longing is the motion of the heart toward that which it does not or cannot possess. Our deepest desires are not always known to us, but our longings are their light footsteps in the snow. If we follow them carefully, we might be led deeper into the hidden structures of our heart.”

    Like some strange tickle deep beneath the skin, it seems like I can only ever make pale attempts at satiating longing’s itch with mere scratches on the surface. It is my hope that I can simply learn to pay attention to those light footsteps in the snow and follow them patiently. (Rather than behave like a dog fruitlessly tugging at its leash, exhausting itself, and struggling to be somewhere other than where it is).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I intend in future installments to look deeper into the practical outworkings of hiraeth and then, ultimately, the deeper vein from which one must draw in order to find peace and stability in the midst of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. krazykiwi

    “Longing as a part of suffering…” I’m reminded of a poem, its author in un known to me:
    My soul sighs as it waits in the darkness.
    No light, no sound. Simply being.

    What is this waiting?

    I inched along, plodding through my life,
    minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

    Joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain,
    hope and despair, darkness and light.

    Then, I chose the darkness
    as I spun my cocoon, my chrysalis, my womb.

    What is this waiting?

    It’s the in-between time, between where I was
    and where I will be, between my past and my future.

    My soul sighs as I trust in the darkness, in the patient hope
    that I will emerge from this cocoon stronger, wiser, more whole.

    That I will no longer plod along minute by minute,
    hour by hour, day by day, but that I will fly.

    That I will soar toward the heavens each moment I take a breath,
    toward my destiny that was written before I was born.

    I will see more clearly, live more authentically, love more fruitfully.

    I lived, I died, and I will become again.
    I will not pass through this transformation unaware.

    I will touch and love and hope and be present,
    and alight upon the shoulders of giants.

    I will look to those brief rainbow moments that shine
    when the sun comes out after the rain.

    I will live, and be mindful of all that is.
    I choose to be born anew, and I relish this freedom.

    What is this waiting?

    It is a gestation, a creating, a longing,
    a whispered promise.

    My soul sighs as it waits in the darkness.

    Liked by 1 person

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