False Longing

“Consumerism is the worship of the god of quantity; advertising is its liturgy. Advertising is schooling in false longing.” ― John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong

It is so easy to get caught up in materialism and to lose sight of the finer things in life, like love, friendship, family, poetry, nature, and so on. We are bombarded by advertisers in the digital age and the more connected we become, the less connected to our inner selves we seem to be.

But what is the alternative? I recall in my early teens thinking about withdrawing from the whole system and become a monk or a priest as the idea of focusing my efforts on true longing held a certain appeal (and still does in many ways). But then I got to thinking about Sting’s lyrics “We are spirits in a material world” in my later teenage years and I felt it important to find a way to balance my spiritual life with my material life.

Nowadays, the idealist in me is drawn to philosophies like Neo-Luddism or Agrarianism, but the pragmatist in me says that if we cannot go “back” we ought to do all we can to support the most viable “green” and sustainable technologies as a means of raising the bar of industrial capitalism. But behind this is the concern to have an active spiritual life to balance out the material developments in my life.

It is clear to me that you cannot find fulfillment in material possessions. While they provide a certain comfort, they come with a cost. When you have them, you tend to be worried about losing them. That said, material possessions, rightly held, provide you with a means of channeling your inner longing into the material world. They can “ground” your spiritual longing in the earth. Moreover, when used correctly, they can be an inspiration to others to do the same, that is, to lift their noses from the grindstone and divert their attention from false longing to see that there are in fact other ways to live.

Fulfillment never was and never will be about quantity in living; it is always about quality of living. False longing will consume your attention and devour your resources if you let it, so wise is the man or woman who takes the time to nourish his or her true longing, which, incidentally, looks different for each person.

3 thoughts on “False Longing

  1. Lady Leo

    We were not created to be the architects of our lives; we are to be the stewards. Looking for “the garden experience ” in the trash heap we’ve made of the Earth is futile. Seeking to fulfill our own longings has created the very world we struggle with. The world seems to offer many options to escape the mess we’ve made; that’s the illusion of all illusions. We have a part to play in restoring the Earth but we are not The Creator; although He depends on us to hear his instruction and obey. At this point fulfillment comes from playing our part in the restoration. It might not be the ultimate expression our Godbeing was designed for but it will surely fulfill our soul as the process of restoration occurs.

  2. Thank you for shedding light upon a subject that has been cloudy. Discerning the balance between the spiritual and the material is vital. It is good to explore how having material possessions can serve for the release of our spiritual longings. Taking the time to nourish our spiritual longings is essential in this process. It is interesting to consider the story of Noah in this respect. It has been noted that the first thing he did upon leaving the ark with all the possessions contained was to build an altar.

  3. David R

    Ultimately a clear centering of worship is the whole issue, and that is not a matter of philosophy, nor a matter of extent of possession. It is the quality of the heart’s desire, the passion for right orientation, combined with the care, the love, the interest and the detailed concern to use whatever may be at hand appropriately. I appreciate your consistent concern to stir memory of these things!

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