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  • Writer's pictureDr. Leyla Gulcur

Yearning Versus Craving

Some time ago I asked my teacher a question about how to distinguish between the feeling of yearning and the feeling of craving, and of grasping for what we crave. It was after doing my pleasure practices several times in a row, after which I felt so expanded, so ecstatic, so in harmony during every moment of the day, regardless of whether I was walking on crowded city streets filled with hordes of cranky people, squished against smelly humanity on the subway, or eating dinner at a restaurant for which I had to wait in line for half an hour.

Yet at the same time that I was feeling grounded in my pleasure, I felt so raw, so vulnerable, so porous it was almost unbearable. And I realized that as I upped my pleasure quota with each practice, each ritual and each act of self-love, I connected to a yearning so profound it made me want to cry. At one point, the feeling washed over me so strongly while I was talking to a friend that I broke down in the middle of conversation. In that moment, I was broken open to a deep, aching, unquenchable hunger for something I couldn’t even define.

For me, yearning is a body-feeling that often makes me want to cry. What I’m yearning for, I have no idea. All I know is that it feels so familiar and yet so unknown at the same time. I perpetually live in the strange paradox of having a cellular memory of it but of never having fully experienced it. Frustratingly close and yet so far away, I’ve only had an enticing taste of it here and there, sometimes in lovemaking, sometimes in meditation, sometimes in dance.

David Deida says: “To open as sadness is to open as the enormous ocean of love’s yearning. . . although you may sometimes reduce this deep yearning to shallow neediness — the need to be loved by another . . . actually this deep yearning is the openness of love. This yearning is the hole through which the divine love that lives open as the universe can be felt to emerge.”

His words illustrate one of the basic creeds of the Sufi tradition, in which yearning is considered a reflection of God’s desire to be known. God’s presence lies in the depth of our longing, and only by dwelling in the insatiable and infinite quality of desire can the Sufi begin to appreciate God’s nature.

In my moments of yearning, I desired to experience a sacred connection with another human being, in relationship. But deep down I also know that no human could ever be the source of this sacredness for me. Nor of its fulfillment. And I’m troubled by the thought that, as I expand my capacity to move into ever deeper connections, I might start to confuse this rightful feeling of yearning that drives my desire for sacred union, with our old friend craving. Yes – desperate craving – and grasping.

So I asked my teacher: how, when in a relationship, do you distinguish between desperate craving and the sacredness of yearning?

Her answer was that, for our generation of women, it’s not an easy road. That this is brand new territory, having been raised inside a culture that encourages us to use our erotic power in servitude to others, rather than to claim it for ourselves, and to use it to power our lives — and only then to enhance the lives of others with the overflow.

But that with the tools and arts of the Pleasure Revolution, we have the potential to be the transitional generation. That by consciously holding on to ourselves, we can begin to reclaim this lost terrain.

The way to achieve this magnificent desire she said, is to live inside the question, to remain conscious of who we are, and to remember that our power comes from a divinity within, as we move forward with another person.

Craving is about mistakenly believing that another object or person – very often our lover or spouse — has the ability to make us feel replete, satiated, whole. It’s about handing our power over to another person because we believe that the power of fulfillment lies in the hands of that Other. When in fact the reality is that we can source ourselves — by connecting to and remaining plugged into a divinity that exists everywhere, inside and out.

Desperately craving another person is when we go utterly unconscious inside the relationship. Where it is all about them, and our internal sun rises or sets, depending on their approval or proximity.

We have the ability now, to make sure that our internal sun rises and sets, no matter what person we are with.

We now have the arts and tools of the Pleasure Revolution.

What are some of these tools? Many of them run too deep to describe here. But they are all based on the practice of fully embracing and experiencing, through the felt sense of the body, all that there is to experience in life, whether light or dark. Using our desires to power our lives, with no attachment to outcome. Celebrating and being grateful for the good that flows into our lives and acknowledging and learning the lessons gifted to us from the bad.

And sustaining the discipline of infusing pleasure into our lives through daily conscious practice.

Yes –pleasure is a discipline. Because powering our lives with pleasure runs counter to all the principles our society is built on: no pain no gain; life’s a bitch and then you die. Indeed, it takes disciplined effort to replace our hardwired drive to suffer with the celebratory power of pleasure. It’s not easy.

But, this is our task, as we give ourselves over to the risk of relating to another.

She said, run towards your desire, with your whole heart and soul. And continue all of your pleasure practices, even as you open yourself to love. And know that you do this for yourself, for me, and for all women. It is a new path.

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