Monthly Archives: November 2009

Sehnsucht: 3

Posted by Linda

I was thinking about the concept of Sehnsucht as longing and longing as sadness.  I think longing also carries in it a known happy experience so powerful that we hope (even against hope) to regain it. I don’t think humans long for something not real and not already experienced.  We might like the idea of living in another solar system but we don’t long to live there. At the same time, we don’t long for something commonly available.  We like sunsets and seek them but don’t long for them, unless we have been deprived of them.  No need to long for a sunset, we can help ourselves almost any day.  I think longing attests to the real presence of life experiences of such profound and fulfilling beauty that they prove the worth of our existence. That may be why Tennyson described longing as “divine despair.”

“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.”

We may feel we long for something past and lost and irretrievable, or that we long for something we have never had nor ever will, but I think longing implies a known thing or we just wouldn’t know it was out there to have.  There is hope then in the ache of longing because it recognizes that the best has been available to us in the past and by extension is now and surely will be in the future.

Blind and deaf from her first year, Helen Keller rhapsodized about things she had not seen or heard since, or had never seen at all.  Through her vibrant imagination, sights and sounds became known things. She could describe the song of a bird through feeling the vibrations of the branch where it perched.  She vivified beauty simply through exercising intuitive instincts available to us all.   It is hard to imagine transcending the weight of longing to see and hear again, but she emancipated her senses and redeemed her loss.

Someone at this moment is having an experience that will one day be longed for again.  Why shouldn’t it be each of us?  We can claim and reclaim joy.


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One Shot: Make it Count

Posted by Mike

I don’t like the image nor the use in the advertisement: “One Shot: Make it Count.“ The local personal injury lawyer with signs plastered all over our area is trying to scare injury victims his way. But I was thinking about his advertisement and the notion behind it while I was driving to work this morning, extending just a bit on the idea. The issue for me was life and time. Being rather far along in the second half of my life, time seems much more important to me than it used to. When you’re younger you think that you have all the time in the world, not only to do what you want to do, but also to waste a whole bunch of it!  Time is really very precious.  When you look at it that way, every day is of value — even this hour, this moment. I know that when we’re young we’re not programmed to give a whole lot of thought to this issue, though we all do think of it occasionally. At this point my desire is to hold on to the idea better right now and from now on. But I know something of human nature. I wonder?

At my age too there’s the issue too of regrets and guilt. I like steps eight and nine of the 12-Step programs: “Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” And “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.“ Lots of time we can’t make amends, but we can respond differently in the present and offer intangibles to others as well as tangibles to make up for past offenses. We harm others, of course, through acts of omission perhaps more than those of commission. Sometimes the omissions are far more significant than the commissions. Obviously, there’s no way we can really fully “make up” for what we have or have not done in the past; and therefore it seems to me that we do need to find some way to relieve ourselves of the excessive burdens of the past. Although we need to make amends as well as learn from our past mistakes and change the ways we think and act, carrying massive excess emotional baggage from our past does us no good whatsoever. We become mired in the past. When you’re like that, you’re just treading water, waiting for death  and of little value to yourself or for others. One of the big issues for older persons is that of maintaining their value, and trying to accomplish that while being burdened with the past is an impossible task.

Speaking of death, I got enraged at Death today. For some reason I was thinking about a woman psychologist I knew years ago, with whom I was friends as well as having a professional relationship. I ran into her accidentally in a work setting maybe fifteen years after our work together. A few years later I heard she had died of cancer. What I felt this morning was anger, not only about her premature death, but I thought of the others I have known who have died too soon, and I‘m also talking about people in their 70‘s and older too, who had a lot of life left in them. It’s not fair. It’s a loss – somehow our very personal loss, even if in some cases the relationship was only of acquaintance. Then I thought of those almost 5000 young Americans who have died in our current unnecessary wars (not to mention the thousands of non-Americans who have died in these conflicts). It’s not fair.

Of course it’s not fair. And I don’t feel anger now, just sadness – which is the authentic, immediate feeling reaction to loss, that we so often cover up with anger. “One Shot: Make it Count.” Perhaps we can soften the idea to something like “Relationships are fragile: Tend them carefully – with lots of love.”

We men on earth are probably on a very low level, but we have our task…that task is to bring consciousness to the life of earth – or, as Jung wrote in his old age, “to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”   –   J. B. Priestley, Man and Time

By embracing life’s fragility, that this moment is all you ever have, you awaken to life’s fullness and possibility.   –   Gary Buffone, The Myth of Tomorrow

Let us look lovingly upon the present, for it holds only knowledge that is forever true.   –   Gerald Jampolsky, Love is Letting Go of Fear

STS-125 Atlantis Liftoff 02.jpg

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Life is a Quid Pro Quo

Posted by Mike

Linda and Barbara were talking about buying a gift for someone,Present (fun).pngand I interjected the comment, “Life is a quid pro quo.”  They were taking about relationships and the issue of giving and receiving was relevant to the context. What I meant was that in relationships we give something and we get something. In most cases we don’t do an accounting, but in general, I think that people tend to expect, consciously or unconsciously, to get back from others – in relationships – something roughly equivalent to what they give. It seems obvious. Isn’t everyone aware of this aspect of relationships? We all have known of people in relationships where it seems that one person is the primary giver and the other person is the receiver. Such relationships can certainly last a long time, but it’s likely that in most cases the giver develops some resentment. And the receiver develops a sense of entitlement, a specialness not justified by reality, but only by the character of the relationship. One can only give so long without receiving. For most people, the giving becomes burdensome; the giver can become resentful, angry, withdrawn, become isolated, feeling unloved. Of course, we’re talking about intangibles as well as tangibles – and I’m not saying one or the other is the most important. We’re talking about practical things like preparing meals and shopping, looking after and caring for and spending time with children, and about intangibles, like thoughtful and kind acts –  relieving someone of a simple task or a responsibility- affection, and generosity.

Why does it have to be a quid pro quo? I suspect that it has to do with the human animal. We humans, as much as we like to think we’re independent, are family/group/tribal animals. There’s no way we can survive alone – or perpetuate the species alone! To survive we must function in groups with others. Yes, we no Amerikanska folk, Nordisk familjebok.jpglonger live in tribal units with close contact and interaction with our tribal families like our aboriginal ancestors – and there’s no doubt in my mind that some losses have accrued to our corporate sensibilities as a result of this change – but to get along in the world and function in whatever group and society we find ourselves, we are interacting daily with multiple other persons and we are dependent on others in so many ways at every minute that we would be astounded if we really became aware of our dependence. For the group and for society as a whole, the process becomes an interdependence. Everyone is expected to share the load, to do his or her part. Obviously children, the sick or infirm, and the elderly must be done for at times, but in general the necessary demands of living are expected to be shared by all. Life is a quid pro quo.

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Quid Pro Quo – Oh, No!

Posted by David

“Life is quid pro quo.” Is that really the way life is? I hope not. Most people take life to be that way. They expect outwardly and inwardly that if they do their part, they will get the other side of reciprocation. Is life just a series of subtle and not-so-subtle contractual engagements? I hope that’s not the case.

Here are some types of quid pro quo thinking:

“I’ll smile and be polite, then…”

“If I give her the job…

“If I take care of her kid this afternoon…”

“If I marry him…”

“God, if I believe in you…”

Expectations such as these are a setup for disaster, because life is not quid pro quo. Life isn’t so mechanistic, at least not the life I know. If it was, there would be no hope, no grace, no joy, no love. We’d be bound in slavery as Quid-Pro-Quobots.

We have a self-determination that allows us to choose and ask and grant and love. With that comes responsibility. My three-year old boy and I were talking about responsibility recently. And he was wondering if Magpie our cat was able to be irresponsible. He had noticed that she would get on the table and clearly she knew that she wasn’t allowed to. As with many of his deeper questions, I had to think about how to respond. I explained that cats aren’t able to be responsible, but that Magpie still isn’t allowed to get on the table. I probably hedged a bit in my explanation. Then he went on to ask about other animals and whether or not those animals were capable of being responsible or irresponsible. Neither of us were completely satisfied with the conversation. Even so, I still hold that animals don’t have the ability to be responsible, yet we do. We make willful choices and that characteristic places us under an umbrella of Justice: God’s justice, that is.

God’s justice is perfect, but that doesn’t mean life is an eye for an eye, or if I rub your back you will rub mine. Relationships aren’t so simple. God’s relationship with us isn’t that simple. If relationships were, where would the friendship be? Friendships aren’t so rote. But isn’t that the contract we see established with most relationships. Those relationships are doomed to fail or become drudgery. True friendships don’t work that way. They don’t care what the other has done for them recently. They act in love. True friendships are much more like water flowing in a river than life living under the bondage of quid pro quo.

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Posted by Mike

Wikipedia defines “sehnsucht” as meaning “longing or intensely missing,” but goes on to state that the term is “almost impossible to translate adequately and describes a deep emotional state…similar to the Portuguese word, saudade.”  And that “It is one of those quasi-mystical terms in German for which there is no satisfactory corresponding term in another language.” The author Georg Tabori is quoted as suggesting that the “ardent longing or yearning” that is implied is closely related to the “addiction…that lurks behind each longing, waiting to turn the feeling into a destructive, self-defeating force.”

I have this notion that virtually everything that we think or do has its costs and benefits; consequently the suggestion above that beneath the overwhelming feeling contained in sehnsucht lies a counterface, a shadow side that might contain hidden costs appeals to me. I’d like to hasten to say that generally the major costs likely to be associated with most of our behavior that we would consider commendable is that in thinking about and doing action “a,” we are are using up time and energy that could have been expended upon “b” to “z,” to the power of infinity. Nevertheless, the costs-benefits notion not only seems to have validity but also usefulness at times. One other aspect of this notion [and the issue of what might be considered a notion rather than an idea, concept, construct, fact, or truth is also obviously something we could explore in these columns. Personally, I tend to consider as notions ideas and beliefs of others that I am completely unable to abide and for which there is no verifiability. I admit that my use of “notion,” referring to ideas of others, is often not a pretty picture] is that our ability to predict all of the consequence of our actions varies from excellent to rather iffy. Fortunately, few of us are so severely obsessive-compulsive that the conflict related to the consequential costs and benefits of our activities ends us in stasis. To survive not only as individuals but as a species we are “designed” by natural selection to consider these issues, mostly at an unconscious level, and then to act. That’s one of the myriad of design features of the human animal that has been adaptive. Come to think of it all organisms must have it, or they wouldn’t be around.

But I’ve gotten off the topic and need to get back to sehnsucht. And I must relate my own personal feelings here, because it seems that there’s no other way to go, except to relate what others have had to say about this aspect of the human condition. My own experience with intense longing for what is missing – and this would be something from the past, some things never attained, something missing in the present, ineffable “things,” is that such feelings that I have had that seem to fit the meaning of the word come and  go and change considerably over time. Right here I’m not about to be so personally self-disclosing to go into detail, but I can certainly relate to the notion, having experienced intense longing myself. I can also relate to the idea of a kind of low grade longing that propels us into exploration and learning experiences. This is likely often a longing to know and to understand that which we don’t know or understand but which is knowable or in any case that we believe it to be so. I expect that journalists, medical students, scientific researchers may often be motivated by such longings, though I admit that this idea itself is just my notion.

Philosophers and theologians have an intense desire to know and to understand. At what point does the need for the satisfactory meeting of the need – for understanding, resolution, finality – lead to premature conclusions as to the nature of reality, in order to attain that feeling sense of completion? Humans seem to eschew not-knowingness and tentativeness. It seems that we are truly uncomfortable living in the state of anxiety of being unsure or uncertain. I suspect that often we move to one polarity or another of an issue primarily because we can’t live with that anxiety of indecision. We are always seeking answers. Fortunate we are that we are able to ask the questions.

I suspect that we all will continue to experience sehnsucht periodically throughout our lives. We can learn that we are able to live with such feelings and that they propel us to consider, explore, study and that the outcomes for us can be truly greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Knowing that we and those around us experience this same feeling that we each have difficulty in articulating and understanding – one of Carl Rogers’ terms, “felt meanings“ seems appropriate – cautiously talking with each other about our own very personal and well guarded longings would likely slowly edge us solitary souls a little closer toward each other.

Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.  –  Friedrich Nietzche

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