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Current Update as of October 17, 2004

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The Holy Longing

The Holy Longing

(Book Summary by Linda Brown)

Jung claimed that "when an individual can survive as a separate person and the ego is stabilized, it begins to yearn for something more."

The author of the book has been a meditation practioner for more than thirty years. She begins by explaining why she wrote this book. As a student at Berkeley, Connie Zweig learned Transcendental Meditation. As a result, she adopted a philosophy that consciousness is the only reality and can be reached only through Transcendental Meditation.

She needed that Something that was bigger than herself. She burned for God. As she lost herself more and more into TM, her spiritual group became her new family, for she was having less and less in common with her own family and her old friends. Her belief was that meditation and purity of lifestyle were the answer to her holy longing. At that time the type of spiritualism she pursued seemed composed of light. She was unaware of a dark side it possessed. Because holy longing has a light side and a dark side it can lead us, on one hand, to an ecstatic experience and wisdom. On the other, it takes us into emotional despair. Her longing for the light evoked its opposite – an encounter with spiritual darkness.

What happened was that the path she had chosen to follow destroyed her faith. She had begun her journey in innocence, seeking to be awakened. During the next ten years she felt deep disappointment with the meditation community. She finally reached a point where she felt that god had betrayed her by sending her on that path. After her disillusionment, it was through a Jungian analyst that she began to see that the answer was to be found in darkness, in the shadow side of life, rather than in the light.

Zweig views her experience of holy longing as her source and her goal, as awakening to a conscious life. She looks at it as a second birth.

The book is divided into two sections: one for "faithful believers" and the other for "disillusioned believers." The author explains that she started out as the former, but turned into the latter. In the first part of the book, stories are told of people whose longing called them to follow it, and they believed that by so doing they could fill their deepest needs.

Throughout all traditions there has been the soul’s search for something beyond ourselves. This is something that, as human beings, we all share. This longing is what leads individuals into creative endeavors – building, sculpting, painting and composing. This longing brings evolution to the physical, mental and spiritual worlds. The holy longing is transformed from a yearning of separation and individuality to a yearning for ego transference and unity. The drive toward self-transcendence is a collective drive. The object of our longing, like the journey that leads us toward it, determines the course of our lives.

It awakens in us as a need for meaning and value. It is archetypal and plays out in all religions. If it is acknowledged it can lead us to a higher end.

The object of holy longing is, for many, God. And God is a different thing in different religions. These various religious images can inspire awe, love, fear, guilt or doubt. The form we give them (collectively and personally) is the form we aspire to become. The development of our god-image within makes itself known through our dreams, fantasies and projections onto other people. Our holy longing goes through successive stages of projection. For most, it starts when we are infants, with the mother.

Later, it turns into longing for a partner and is romantic. We fall in love and deal with the impossibility of possessing the beloved. Although we view this relationship as personal, it is archetypal. Disappointment and loss are inevitable no matter how wonderful this relationship is.

Next comes longing for the divine human – a spiritual teacher or religious guide. This person evokes our feelings of childlike devotion. There are inherent dangers here - the follower may become overly submissive or may worship this person as a god. The follower may risk losing her autonomy and not living her own life. This is most in danger of happening if feelings of being special mask feelings of inferiority.

Among the dangers a believer faces when projecting the divine Self onto a human are as follows:

1. losing contact with our own divinity.

2. losing trust in our own ability to think and decide.

3. losing trust in our own feelings.

4. giving trust to someone who may abuse us, who will offer us wounding rather than healing.

These divine humans to whom our holy longing leads us are not the same for each of us. For example, if we long for certainty, we are drawn to the wise old man or woman; if we long for salvation, we are drawn to the teacher who appears as a savior; if we long for unconditional love, we are drawn to one who appears as the divine mother; if we long for faith, we are drawn to the teacher who appears as a magician.

The positive side of holy longing is that we find a cherished teacher or a religious community in which we experience moments of rapture. The negative side is that eventually we face the shadow side of our longing and meet with darkness. There are numerous ways it can happen: through spiritual or sexual abuse, realizing the teacher's human limitations, being attracted by charismatic personalities, encountering corrupt priests and teachers, or because our beliefs and rituals fail to fulfill their promises. Spiritual believers are too often taught that their needs don’t matter because an authority knows them better than they know themselves.

The book discusses the Catholic Church and pedophilia that went on for many, many years, plus the fact that the Church kept it hidden for so long.

Human relationship to the divine, when carried to the extreme, can lead to the community becoming a cult. Examples of this are the members of Heavens Gate who committed mass suicide in 1997 and the followers of Osama bin Laden.

Another dark side is when our emotional needs of approval and a relentless inner critic are what lead us. It is also possible we become dependent on a spiritual technique until it becomes more of an obsession or addiction for us. When we meet our teachers’ shadow or our own shadow or suffer disillusionment with spiritual beliefs, we lose faith and feel forsaken, even from god. Following the disillusionment, some succumb to rage and place blame; others succumb to depression. Others, not wanting to face the truth or find fault, go into denial.

When we meet the spiritual Other the descent begins. We lose our innocence.

Once a person joins the disillusioned, the non-believer, they must do much spiritual shadow-work to bring about their recovery. This shadow-work involves suffering. But this suffering and this recovery do not mean that we are off the path. We are on it.

As we travel through the darkness we can move into spiritual maturity. Shadow work for spiritual abuse and disillusionment includes learning to accept the limitations of our teachers, acknowledging the dark sides of our spiritual beliefs, learning to question behaviors of our priests or teachers, reclaiming our independent thinking and intuition and reclaiming our authentic feelings.

Who is susceptible to spiritual abuse? Some more than others. During major transitions such as leaving home for the first time or facing the loss or death of a loved one, a person is particularly vulnerable. People with obsessive-compulsive or borderline disorders, or people who have experienced early sexual abuse are also quite susceptible.

Zweig’s book enables one to recognize their own longing and to pay attention to what fuels it and what numbs it – pointing out that sometimes the longing gets misplaced onto concrete objects such as food, drugs, sex and alcohol. The book reminds us to ask ourselves – what is the proper stance toward our holy longing? Should we take refuge from it in rationality, or embrace it with open arms?

Within holy longing there comes a point where the consciousness turns either down into matter (individuality) or up into spirit (enlightenment).

The dark side of holy longing can either consume us or transform us. The recovery work involves suffering, but disillusionment is necessary to recover faith and reclaim what of ourselves was sacrificed during spiritual naiveté. Our growth also necessitates psychological growth.

The source and god of all evolution is spirit.

Part of being human is experiencing this yearning and desire, longing and hope. It is inborn to open our personal selves to archetypal and transpersonal realms. It is possible for this desire for the holy longing to lead us to the myth of our own lives.

The goal is not the end of the longing. The holy longing itself is the guide.


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