Feelings

In the yoga meditation class, the teacher occasionally instructs us to dwell on our “heart’s deepest longing.” The first few times I had to hold back sobs. I long for Steve, of course, my beautiful, gentle Steve.

Last week, though, upon her instruction, I didn’t allow myself to go there. It occurred to me that the heart’s deepest longing isn’t for anything (or anyone) that we can have. It would seem ridiculous, for example, to wish for wealth as the heart’s deepest longing. We shouldn’t be longing for material possessions, whether that’s cash or vacations, or people, for that matter. It is more likely that we long for a posture, or maybe a feeling. At this point, it’s probably peace with my situation in life, or maybe it’s ease. In various visualization prompts, I repeatedly imagine me comfortable in my body, remembering the feel of my muscles when I was in better shape. I imagine myself at ease in my body, at ease with the people I pass on the street. I think I long for ease, in this body, on this street, in this small community, in this strange life I’ve ended up with.

And this got me thinking about my M.B.A. friend. My best friend from childhood is, coincidentally, wealthy. She’s done well for herself and worked hard for it. I’m genuinely happy for her for going after what she really wanted. During a visit when both our kids were little, she told me about an account she managed, in which she marketed an orange “drink” to poor neighborhoods. MIddle-class moms, she explained, serve their kids orange juice, but poor moms can’t afford it, so they give their kids this sugar-filled, artificially-constructed, Vitamin C-enriched drink, and it makes them feel like good moms. “It’s all about how you feel,” she concluded, including both the middle- and lower-class mothers as following their feelings.

I nodded politely (albeit silently horrified by the social justice issues), but the middle-class mother in me wanted to retort that when I serve my kids local, organic foods and bovine growth hormone-free milk, it’s got nothing to do with how I feel. The actual food I serve my kids matters to their bodies and to the earth. Materiality matters; I’m not guided by my feelings, I wanted to say.

But now that I look back on it, maybe I was guided by my feelings. Maybe being a crunchy mother did give me an identity and made me feel like I’m resisting the inevitable progress of capitalism and contributing to reform.

Both the meditation class and the MBA invited me to distinguish materiality from feelings, and both suggest feelings as our driver. The MBA, of course, redirects our feelings back to material goods, but what about the meditation? It’s not teaching me to reject the material. Certainly good relations and people that we love are appropriate things in our life. It’s not telling me to reject these things, but it is teaching me not to attach my deepest longing to them.

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with this. I hope to get to a place where I can be at peace with any situation, to appreciate the joy but not count on it, and not let my well-being rest on it. This is detachment, right? It seems coarse and empty to my rational mind, but I’m starting to get that what’s important is not what I have, not what I work for, but how I sit with it.

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