Desire & Longing
in Conversation

Have you had any nourishing conversations today? This week? This month?

What do I mean by nourishing? For starters, if you only talk about stuff that could have just been Googled, it doesn’t count.

The magic of conversation thrives in the space between self and other.

Many of our conversations are exchanges of pleasantries and information. These are both necessary and important as they help us navigate the situational surface of our days and relationships. In these transactional conversations, we seek to satisfy a desire and then move on.

Even in other conversations where we’re trying to solve problems, negotiate solutions, or resolve issues often we work within the walls of expediency and practicality and when the goal is met, we’re done. We’ve satisfied a desire and can check it off the list.

But desire is a desert and its satisfaction a mirage for as soon as one desire is fulfilled we’re off to the next. And the next. And the next. Our entire socioeconomic system of consumerism lives off our desire and it’s taken up residence in our bones. As in the phrase “object of our desire”, the fulfillment of our desire is always exactly that – an object. A bigger flatscreen. Another pair of shoes. Your new date. Health. Wealth. Happiness. Transformation. Even enlightenment. Somewhere, somehow, somebody’s packaged it and is ready to meet your desire. All you need to do is Google and the object of your desire is a click away!

Let’s talk about longing – a very different animal.

If desire is a desert, longing is the horizon. It will take you beyond any desert, across mountains and seas. It will take you to places of dream and of dread but the horizon itself will never be reached. It moves, changes, and transforms. It’s both here and there at the same time. The horizon cannot be bought, sold, packaged, or owned. No one’s figured out how to put a no-trespassing sign on it. And just as with the horizon which you can see and venture towards and never arrive, with longing you can often see and even be in the very presence of that which you long for and never realize the ceasing of your longing.

Longing is the adult version of desire. It lives in our hearts and courses through our veins. It’s sinewy and vibrant. Visceral and wild. It sometimes shouts, sometimes whispers who am I, really? How am I to be? What am I to do? How am I to be and do with you? Desire hunts in the world and lives in the mind and body but longing dances, reveling in life, revealing the inner world of heart and soul.

The things we long for are the very things that make life worth living. We long for things like meaning, purpose, connection, belonging, affection, understanding just to name a few. These are things that can’t be bought and if anyone tries to sell you any of these, run the other way!

The well of longing is deep and what’s important about longing is that when we drink that which we long for, we are nourished and changed forever. There is an alchemy that takes place within – one that cannot be taken away. This nourishment resides alongside longing, driving us forward. Living our purpose, loving another, becoming who we are – all driven and nurtured in longing never meant to be “achieved” in the sense of finished as we, the world, our longing exists in a constant state of change. On the other hand, the objects we desire momentarily sate us but the inventory of desires is endless. You could almost say, desire makes you fat, but longing makes you BIG. Desire is an itch that wants to be scratched and longing is the ache that accompanies the deep love that lives in your heart.

So what do desire and longing have to do with conversation?

Most of our conversations have to do with quelling desires. And many of these conversations are important – some, vitally important.

But within conversation lies the invitation to journey towards the horizon beyond the fence of desire along the outskirts of the unknown, our longing guiding and propelling us forward.

Longing in conversation is about how we abide with each other. It’s how we explore, discover, and create things like meaning, belonging, affection, love, grief. And conversation is how we walk the meandering road of our longing with others.

These sorts of conversations are not conversations where facts, figures, intellectual acrobatics will help you. These are not about solving problems or aligning goals, fulfilling objects of our desire. These are conversations where more relaxed minds, open hearts and connected souls come to those who have the courage and determination to listen, hear, empathize, be deeply present and hold themselves and others in compassion.

These conversations open us up to the magic that thrives in the space between self and other. These are conversations where we learn to be more human.

Learn more about the practice of Mindful Conversation

Written by John Scilipote
Edited by Martha Williams