"Longing is the core of mystery.
Longing itself brings the cure.
The only rule is, Suffer the pain.
Your desire must be disciplined, and what you
want to happen in time, sacrificed."
I'm often aware of a feeling of deprivation, of a sense that I need something outside myself to soothe a deep want or need. I'm aware of it when I feel the need to purchase something without which I think I'll perish. I feel it when I eat just a bit beyond satisfaction, not because of appetite but because of a desire to check out. And I know its presence when I feel the deep longing that for me comes with (and without) relationships, the longing for connection with another whom I fantasize will meet the depth of my need and magically make it go away.
I've known this presence my whole life, but for many years only subtly, through the behavior it induced - through all the machinations in which I engaged to avoid feeling it. I could not be aware of this presence, could not tolerate it, could not begin to contain it long enough to lend it consciousness. I grew up in a world, in a culture, in a family in which such things were not voiced, in which the pervasive hunger of the soul was met with variants on my grandmother's well-intentioned greeting, "Come in, you must be starving," in which alcohol and food and television and every other stopgap measure was easily available, but not awareness. And, of course, there was heroin - there was no better relief from the unbearable tension I didn't even know I had.
When I first began to meditate in the Buddhist tradition, in New York in the early 1990s, I would sit for long periods overwhelmed by anxiety, lust, wild thoughts of every kind, and by a feeling of emptiness, by the sensation of a pit in my torso so deep and profound I had no words for it - could barely tolerate it. In treatment I had been introduced to my body's wisdom, and I now knew this pit of deprivation for what it was - the root of my craving, not just for heroin but for anything that might make the emptiness seem bearable for just a moment. Not the void of which Buddhist masters spoke, this void of mine made me feel as if I was going to die if I couldn't fill it.
Slowly I learned to sit through it and recognize the ways in which my meditative ruminations and fantasies helped distract me from the reality of this thing that I wanted more than anything to avoid. But the real fantasy never came true: the fantasy that if I sat through it, that if I let myself experience it, that if I learned to be with it - and that if I went to enough therapy - somehow it would transform, resolve, go away. The feeling of deprivation remained, and still remains, perhaps triggered less frequently than it once was but no less severe when triggered, no less dire, no less urgent. My response to it now is different than it was, and more often than not I simply know it for what it is, but there is something about that void that is timeless, terrifying - that says to me when it arises, "I am here, I am unbearable, I am forever."
A few years ago an image came to me, a fantasy that would not leave me alone - an image of a little girl in the distant past, dead of starvation, doll-like, with hollowed eyes and tattered dress. In the darkness I saw her in a doorway, hand outstretched, face sunken; I was aware of her presence both visually and through the physical experience of starvation and abandonment, and through the experience of the pit in my abdomen. I was not simply aware of her pain, her fear, her deep hunger - I was those experiences. I was her. Her hunger was in me, and I could not feed her, could not sufficiently assuage the depth of her longing, could not comfort her fear nor change her fate. And I knew in my heart that this was an ancestral image.
Although perhaps this image was literally an ancestral "ghost" (the lingering, haunting spirit of an ancestor who died unresolved), or perhaps simply the symbolic residue of historical trauma emerging from the deep layers of the psyche, the real truth of this image lies simply in my experience. And my experience is that my ancestors emerge in me, live through me; that the deep deprivation of which I've long been aware is not simply the result of a disruption in my early childhood care. For despite later chaos, my parents were quite present in my early childhood, quite aware, quite caring. This lifelong experience of deprivation is neither explained by mainstream psychological theories nor by theories of addiction; it is explained by what I know intuitively. It is explained by the reality that I am linked deeply, in body and psyche, to those who came before.
This transpersonal, historical, ancestral awareness has been remarkable in allowing me to sit with my void in a different way. I remind myself that it's not simply about me, nor about a wound I received in my infancy, but about them, my ancestors, about my connection with a larger process of resolution, and by giving this deprivation both context and meaning I find myself able to bear my experience in a different way; I find I am able to be kinder, both to myself, and to her, in all her forms.
"Transpersonal Deprivation" is an excerpt from a new book, The Trusting Heart: Addiction, Recovery, and Intergenerational Trauma by Michael Aanavi, PhD, Chiron Publications, 2012. More information regarding the book may be found by visiting http://thetrustingheart.com.