What's the longing inside the longing?

I have a newfound respect for the power of repetition. The second leg of my meditation teacher training program happened to coincide with the solar eclipse. Unfortunately, the sky was full of clouds and mist on the morning of August 21st, but we did an exercise that elicited the light from within to shine. We were asked to find a partner and then for roughly five minutes our partner would repeatedly ask us this question: "What does your heart most long for?"

Sounds simple, right? Maybe even a bit trite. As one of my former kindergartners used to say, "Don't knock it before you try it." I had only just met my partner and now I was literally about to pour my heart out to him. Here's a brief sampling of how my experience went:

Partner: What does your heart most long for?

Me: My book to get published.

Partner: What does your heart most long for?

Me: To succeed at my new career.

Partner: What does your heart long for most?

Me: To learn to relax.

Partner: What does your heart long for most?

Me: To be free from anxiety.

Partner: What does your heart long for most?

Me: To know that I'm not bad for having anxiety and being fearful all the time

Partner: What does your heart long for most?

Me: To see myself more fully and not be so focused on what I need to do or improve upon...

Each time I answered my partner would allow ten seconds or so for me to feel the weight of my answer. It's important to note that my partner used a genuine, soft voice as he repeatedly posed this question. As Zora Neale Hurston once said, "Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place." His caring and inviting tone paved the way for me to walk my way in and express, with honesty, what my heart most longed for.

Desire is often considered the root of suffering and yet the focus of this exercise was on... desire. However, I liked the language Tara Brach used, "What's the longing inside the longing?" As you can see from the sampling above, my desires shifted from being attached to something external to recognizing several, deep internal needs that longed to be met. After my five minutes were up, I sat in silence for a while and did the best I could to hold myself with the loving care and compassion I so rarely give myself but am quick to give to others. I had created the space to feel the longing beneath the longing.

Since returning home, I have done this practice a few more times by myself. I have set a timer for five minutes and then asked the prompt aloud in addition to saying my answer aloud. I have also tinkered with the process and asked the question aloud while writing my response in a journal. I encourage you to play with this exercise and tweak the format and language as needed so it resonates with you. If you have a partner or friend who would like to do this exercise with you, then that's great but it's certainly not a prerequisite.

My next post will include another reflection question to be repeated in a similar format. Stay tuned!