This [very specific] feeling is intense and pervasive and haunting and consuming. It is a great longing for something very obscure, but almost tangible. Like something we, as a species, used to know intimately, but somehow forgot. Like we are floating around, lost and unconnected, and this feeling is a distant memory.
There are no adequate words for it. The German Sehnsucht refers, I think, to this feeling, translating to something like ‘longing-addiction’, and that’s as close as it gets. Sound familiar to any of you?
As I said, I’ve felt it all my life. It is a feeling of intense longing. It is a feeling of great need. It is the feeling that something is missing, perhaps a memory of a far-off place, or a sense of wholeness which has been lost. It is deeply, profoundly painful, and inconsolable, but it also has the echo of perfect beauty of this thing which has been lost. I think that this feeling, this pull, this Ache, is incredibly important – more important than anything in my life.
Others, notably C. S. Lewis, have been able to describe it. It was to him a “desire for our own far-off country… the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience…Our commonest expedient is to call it Beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter”. (x) He felt that it was what drew humans towards an experience of God, a sense of eternity. He felt that it was basically universal.
It is a feeling of other-worldliness. Like there is something beyond this tangible existence. It is overwhelming.
I get this feeling when it rains. I feel and hear it in the wind, like whispers. I feel it when I walk among pine trees. I felt this first as a child, and sought it constantly, pushing myself into fantasy worlds which could give me more than this mundane existence and soothe that Ache. I listened to music that triggered these Aches (Enya among others), as if by strengthening the feeling I could ascertain its source.Because the source of the feeling was itself the great secret, eternity, happiness, Wholeness. I term it my Missing Piece.
And I have a theory. I think that somehow, I have inherited something from my ancestors. Spiritual memories. Something in my spirit is tied to this Wholeness. I think I get these Aches from things that my ancestors were attached to in the past. Mostly places, locations. This is my theory.
Once I became a teenager, I abandoned trying to feel this Ache because it was simply too painful. I had been accused of being a drama queen trying to find it. My family didn’t understand. I gave up. If I ignored it, maybe it would go away. Nope. Life continued to be painful and mundane. Imperfect. I loathe this modern age.
But then I found something that didn’t suck at all. I found Heathenry. It felt right, and Whole, and familiar, and it wasn’t ugly and imperfect. Heathenry is the main reason I’m living life – it’s stopped me from destroying myself and it’s given me purpose.
Because I think Heathenry can give me the tools to find my Missing Piece. I hope beyond hope that it will provide me with the ability to ascertain the Source. Maybe I have to communicate with my ancestor spirits. Maybe I just have to walk around parts of Europe with my Spiritual Homeland Radar switched on and wait until something says, “the shoe fits!”. I don’t know yet. But I absolutely must find this Missing Piece, this source of Sehnsucht, if it’s the only thing I do. I have to do it for myself. I shall never be truly happy otherwise.
The Secret Longing of C. S. Lewis (above quoted)
Saudade and Sehnsucht