The longing beneath

Centering retreat circle

Today I have been fielding phone calls and emails from people drawn to connect with our School for Contemplative Living. The conversations concern specific gatherings, classes, workshops, or retreats. We talk about details such as locations, meeting spaces, the people who attend, the topics, etc. But when I settle into the stillness afterwards I know something else is going on: I sense the longing beneath the conversation.

Yesterday I had many conversations with men living inside the Angola State Prison, and some with volunteers who live outside the prison world. The conversing covered many topics as we met together for a session on our common humanity, part of an 8-week course in Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT). The exercises included groups of two or four men looking into each other’s faces and listening without speaking as one person, then another, shared responses to questions like: “How is your heart today?” and “Who are you, Who were you, Who are you becoming?” We answered fun questions for connecting, like what our childhood nicknames were, and meaningful questions like, “What has brought you sorrow or inspiration lately?”

The experience was powerful. The connecting with men who were strangers before we met was moving. The sharing was sometimes fun or funny, sometimes sad, and always touching. And we were able to visit and catch up with a few mentoring men who we have been seeing since last summer.

A deep awareness arose in me from the first conversation that beneath these faces, and stories, and answers to questions, I could feel the longing beneath it all.

The longing beneath which I felt at the prison yesterday was like the longing beneath which I felt in the phone calls and emails this morning, though the worlds of the people involved were vastly different.

My sense is that there is a longing in all of us, beneath the surface of what we say or how we look or what circumstances we are in, which is for Something More than what we currently experience. That longing might take various forms but still be a common human longing for Something More: more love, respect, validation; more feeling heard,  understood, and cared for; more connection to the Something More which flows within us and among us; more understanding of the meaning and purpose of our lives and a sense that our lives matter; more of a sense of connection to others who are more like us than not.

If we could drop down to the bottom, to the longing beneath all longings, I believe we are longing for union/oneness with God, however we understand or do not understand God. Since the divine is the Source of all love and compassion, we could say the longing is to be one with The Source of Love, to directly experience how we are the beloved of the One.

No wonder I felt moved to become a contemplative missionary after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, as a small group of us sat in silence together, resting in the Center of Being. No wonder my spirit rose up in delight at the discovery of the filling our lives always long for. No wonder a calling arose to share the treasure we were discovering with others wherever I went. No wonder we eventually had to birth a School for Contemplative Living as a means of gathering people to long for the Source and practice the Presence together.

I know you know what I am referring to. I know as you are reading you want to stop looking at these words and fall down into the longing beneath them. I know you know words can never bring us to the longing beneath. I know you do not need any more invitation and are ready to drop down right now into the longing beneath. I know you know the Something More is waiting.


About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through; and of a blog on, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (, adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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