Bittersweet Desire: Intimacy and Otherness in the Pure Land of the Heart
By Tasha Friedman
There is a place in your heart that is soft and quiet, where desires flow back to their source and where you can feel at home.
This place is small enough for you to curl up inside it like a fetus in the womb or like a tiny creature with a fluttering pulse and paper-thin skin that rolls itself into a ball under the earth to sleep until spring comes again. And it is large enough to encompass the entire universe, countless galaxies and endless empty space, an expanse of time unthinkably vast even when measured by the lifetimes of stars.
Loneliness and separation are a part of life, but they are not its entirety. Even the full spectrum of human experience is just one tiny aspect of what you are. And in this poignancy, the sharp pang of desire that drives all movement, you can come into a secret inner space of intimacy with life itself.
Loneliness and Connection
Human life can be terribly lonely. We pray for our loved ones to stay close, calling each other by names we’ve agreed on, but one circumstance or another inevitably takes them away from us.
We wish that we could understand each other. Language always leaves something unsaid. It can never bring us together, as is our hearts’ yearning. How often has it happened that you thought you knew someone inside and out, only for them to do or say something, and suddenly a gulf opens up again between you?
You can be so familiar and yet remain strangers, or you can be strangers and yet know each other with terrifying directness—catching the eye of someone on the street whom you’ll never talk to or see again, but in that moment, you recognize something, you are together in a way that defies all understanding.
Have you ever been so in love with someone that you wanted to crawl into their skin?
Seeing from the outside, through the mind and personality, isn’t enough. To know another being, you have to dissolve yourself. Intimacy begins when you become no one.
The Bittersweetness of Desire
Human beings are creatures of desire and all our myriad longings, the desire for intimacy with another is perhaps the strongest.
Desire is bittersweet. The Greek poet Sappho described it, or more accurately, translated it, “sweet-bitter”: maybe because in human romances often the sweetness comes before the bitterness, or because desire promises sweetness but implies separation. It may also be because this bitterness is itself so sweet—the fact that there is an other to your body and mind, and that other is both so inaccessible and fundamentally so close, reminding you that there is life beyond the limits of your individuality.
A desire for connection with another being is just the tip of the iceberg of a more profound longing for union, a sacred pain at the root of all individual experience. It’s aching for something just out of reach, nostalgia for a pure land of beauty and peace where all creatures are walking in the light, a world of magic half-remembered from childhood, an imprint deep in the collective subconscious of humanity.
“Nostalgia” literally means “the pain of home.” It hurts to realize you are far from home, but the fact that you feel it shows you are closer than you think. Such a sweet wound brings your heart to life.
Desire feels like separation but points us to wholeness. You would not long for union if you did not feel that we are already one.
Desire helps us break open.
If we did not want anything, we would stay forever within our own little shells. But we are born into motion, seeking outside of ourselves from the moment we draw our first breath.
We know intuitively that fulfillment comes from beyond the limits of body and mind. Take this the wrong way (as we all do, or we wouldn’t be here), and you go running after external objects until you crash into the wall enough times to realize that it doesn’t matter whether or not you catch the object of your desire: desire itself remains, an infinite void that only infinity can fill.
Meeting Each Other in the Heart
Nothing, no thing at all, will satisfy your hunger. Nothing out there will make you happy. Not the beautiful partners or houses or perfect jobs, not the pleasures of the senses, not the praise or validation you’ve been craving your whole life.
But don’t despair! Or despair just enough for it to season you until you remember that quiet place inside, where you feel tender and open and where your desire folds in on itself. After searching with such intensity to find yourself in the world, now you discover the world within yourself.
Within your heart, the world is not how you used to see it, but the same as it always was. Everything here is pure, not in the sense of being untouched by the outside, but because things are simply as they are, free of any meaning or conceptual overlay. A kind of translucence, yet so tangible: you are touching the world, touching life directly.
Here you can finally meet all the friends and lovers who seemed so far away even as you stood shoulder to shoulder or lay tangled in each other’s arms. Here you see yourself in their eyes, and that abyss of desire becomes infinite space.
What you really want, beyond the projection onto one object or another, is yours already. That perfection you have always known without knowing is not some distant dream, but closer to you than your own pulse, nearer than your own soul.
Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.