by Jessica Graham
There is a candle in your heart,
ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul,
ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?
A few times a year I experience a special kind of suffering. It’s the “What should I do with my life? / Will I ever get what I want? / What do I want anyway?” variety of suffering.
Since I was quite young I’ve been an actor, a few years back I started teaching meditation, and most recently I started writing. None of these callings have a clear track to success and they all involve a lot of sacrifice and faith. During these periods of suffering I question all three. I become convinced that I need to choose one. I decide that I’m a terrible actor, teacher, and writer. I want my boyfriend to become filthy rich so I can quit them all and just bake muffins and clean the house. I start to believe that if I can just do the right thing, right this second, it will all be perfect.
It starts small and then builds until I’m sure that because I don’t have a clear idea of what I want, I will never have anything good. I get down on myself about my lack of formal education, my many years of checking out with drugs and alcohol and my almost non-existent savings account. I usually dip into some old childhood wounds and feel bad for myself that I didn’t always get the best head start on this whole life thing.
While I’m going through this cycle I’m also employing my meditation practice. Because of that my suffering is more on the level of a mild cold, rather than pneumonia. I work with the mental talk and the sensations in my body as I have learned to do. I move through the discomfort fairly quickly and I don’t make a mess of my life while I do it. I survive these periods. But is that really enough?
For number of reasons, some known and explored, others unconscious, I will sometimes settle for less. I will sometimes keep my world small, and therefore seemingly safe. I will just survive. This is quite useful when you are growing up in a dysfunctional home, not so helpful when you are an adult attempting to have a happy and successful life. So, even with my practice, when this semi annual life crisis arises, I settle for just getting though it.
The last time it happened, I was intensely sad. I was hit with how much I missed acting. It’s been over 4 years since I really did any acting, mostly by choice. I have been focusing on meditation and emotional evolution. My dad died about three years ago and I’ve been on that crazy ride too. Last summer I entered a rigorous acting program, training in The Meisner Technique and it woke up the actor in me. Since being in class the desire to perform has grown and with it this sadness and longing.
I once again began the whole cycle of “What to do”. I always think that I can’t be a meditation teacher and an actor. I have this idea that my life isn’t big enough to fit both and so I have to choose. It starts to feel like my own personal version of Sophie’s Choice, because I truly do love both and I truly think I have to choose. Of course I don’t, but my body and my mind think I do at those times.
So I was on my way down a familiar road, using my tools, not taking it too hard, but still uncomfortable. Then one night in the midst of it, I was having a conversation with my boyfriend and it hit me. This was yearning, and it was beautiful. This deep ache to perform, to teach, to write was a yearning to share myself with others. A yearning to connect. I immediately realized that this was what I needed to work with. I needed to label it yearning and let it exist completely. Of course it’s made up of mental talk, images and emotions in the body, but seeing it as yearning instead of suffering, indecision, and confusion, changed something. What’s more, yearning actually feels good. My body feels alive and in love.
I remember when I first began my spiritual exploration. I so related to people like Rumi, yearning for his beloved. I had been given a taste of something bigger than my mind, something so much more expansive that I thought possible. I yearned for more. I meditated for hours and hours. I listened to spiritual teachers on my ipod instead of music. I spoke, slept, and ate mindfulness meditation. Eventually I calmed down, but I didn’t lose the longing to keep going deeper, to wake up more.
I separated my acting, teaching and writing work from this journey by making it a problem to deal with, rather than an invitation to reveal more of the mystery. Now that my spiritual yearning and my creative yearning are integrated I am having a very different experience with my work. I’ve been emotionally freed up to create more, to share more, and to connect more. I’m working a short script that I’m going to act in and also auditioning. I’m writing more than ever and I recently adjusted my schedule to make more time for teaching. I’ve also started planning regeneration time, because all of this creative output can be taxing if I don’t take time to rest.
This insight about yearning is quite simple, but it’s proving to be life changing. I feel like I have more room in my life and less reason to keep my world small. My meditation practice provides a map that allows me to explore this new space with openness and interest. As I do my time on the cushion, insights will continue to arise from the depths and show me new ways of living. I’m excited about what comes next.