I feel there is something more I am meant to do.
I long for something more meaningful in my life.
I feel called to serve others, but I’m not sure what that looks like.
These are some of the typical comments I hear when I first meet Purpose Discovery students. Their words are often delivered with a sense of urgency and an earnest-hearted passion to connect with something greater, deeper and more authentic in their life.
When I lead clients through purpose work, I first invite them to connect with their longing. Their longing for meaning, to feel whole, or to contribute to the world in a meaningful way. Then, through inquiry or soul encounter work, we unpack what the longing feels like, and where its energy wants to lead them.
Longing is like the magnetic force that pulls a compass needle north. It orients you back home to your true center. If you follow the thread of your longing long enough, and with wholehearted intention, you come to what Black Elk, the Lakota Medicine Man calls “the lament.” A cry for a vision. A deep prayer for oneself and for the community.
What’s the source of our longing?
Sometimes we confuse desire with longing, but they are quite different. Desire is ego-centric and usually drives us to short term gratification. Longing, however, is a deeper human impulse that wants to orient life towards truth, beauty, and goodness. It surges somewhere beneath the surface of desire. When we pursue ego’s desires, we are usually doing so to dull the bittersweet ache of our longing or to resist it altogether.
If ego is the domain of desire, then soul is the domain of longing. As Bill Plotkin explains in Soul Craft, soul wants to know “its true gift is being embodied beautifully and delivered effectively.” We feel the ache of longing when we are disconnected from soul’s impulse for wholeness or when we’re not living our gifts with beauty and excellence.
Longing is also the measure of distance between the heart and a unconscious (or conscious) exile from Mystery, spirit, God, the sacred, or nature. Longing is a deep, elusive, soul-full hum that runs beneath day-to-day life. It calls us to belong—to ourself, family, community, and to life itself.
When we cross the river of our longing through self-inquiry, creative expression, embodiment, prayer, or nature-based questing, we feel more connected, whole and aligned with our truth. Listening for the heartbeat of our longing is how we excavate the depths of our innate purpose and gifts. Longing guides us home and orients us to a life lived with heart and meaning.
Here are a few practices to help you follow your longing home.
Self-Inquiry | 30 Minutes
Sit quietly and still for 15 minutes.
Once you’ve settled into your seat, formulate a question about your longing.
Some potential questions: What is the source of my longing? What does my longing want to teach me? What within me is longing for wholeness? (Or meaning? Or purpose?)
Like a stone in a well, drop one clear question into the center of your being.
Sit for another 15 minutes. Wait and listen with your heart.
An insight might arise in the moment. But it also might take days, weeks or more for an answer to find you. Simply thank the mystery for holding your question, and end the meditation.
Keep alert and stay curious. Keep listening for what longing wants to teach you.
Pray Your Question | 30 Minutes
Sometimes our longing is so deep and subtle that we can’t access it directly. We may only have a glimmer, a hunch, or a felt “knowing” that somewhere in me, or out there is my truth.
Prayer can relieve of us of the pressure to “figure it all out”. It can create spaciousness and a way to surrender our questions to something greater.
For some, prayer comes easy, especially if its part of their religious upbringing. For others, prayer is foreign, uncomfortable or simply confusing. Who or what am I praying to? How do I actually pray?
Here’s a suggestion.
1. Gather writing materials—pen, paper and a highlighter; or a computer.
2. Sit quietly and still for 15 minutes. Bring your attention to your heart as you settle in. Notice your breath at the center of your chest as it rises and falls.
3. Ask the following questions with clarity (speak them out loud), reverence (for the mystery) and with intention to know the truth as if your life depends on it.
What is my most heartfelt prayer for myself?
What is my most heartfelt prayer for my community?
What is my most heartfelt prayer for the world?
4. Listen. Receive the answers with your whole body. Write your answers in a stream of consciousness.
5. Pan for gold—highlight words and ideas that resonate. Reflect on the insights.
Wandering In Nature | 45 Minutes +
Renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung observed: “The soul is for the most part outside the body.” And from the noted psychologist Thomas Moore: “Soul, the mystery we glimpse when we look deeply into ourselves, is a part of a larger soul, the soul of the world.” Let nature be your guide, mirror, companion as you take your questions on a long walk in her midst
Find a hiking trail, park, hilltop, beach etc that speaks to your heart.
Before you embark on a walk, close your eyes and let one of the following questions/inquiries “occupy” you.
What does my soul long for?
What must I do to become whole?
I must do_____X______because it’s the only way to live my truth.
When you are ready, open your eyes and begin to walk, letting mystery lead you during your wandering time.
Pay special attention to the way wild nature meets you as you walk as your “living inquiry”. Remember: your answers may come in the form of a tree stump, bird call, leaf, wind, etc.
When in doubt, just be open to wild nature as you carry your inquiry. It is really powerful to be in nature sharing your experience with the trees, the plants, the rocks, the winged ones, the crawlers, the swimmers — for your experience is their experience and sharing deepens the connection to nature and to your soul.
* Thanks to Jonathan Gustin of Purpose Guides Institute for inspiring this exercise.