It’s like a plant that’s potted but belongs in the forest. It’s like a fish in an aquarium that belongs in the ocean. It’s a bird in a cage. It’s like not using one of your muscles.
There needs to be a word for the hazy ache we feel – it’s not quite “missing.” It’s not taking part in something you are built to do. That something could be a job but could also be just human interaction, interaction of the normally-banal, every-day sort. Or slowly browsing at Target (sigh.)
The word for it could come from German, which often joins together compound words to make innovative labels. There’s “Sehnsucht,” which is an ache caused by an intense craving. Or perhaps “Fernweh,” a longing for a place different from where you are.
Why does this matter? Words act as place holders in our minds, or port keys. If you don’t have to struggle to describe a thing, you can more easily stack that idea with others in your mind, building on to new and more complicated mental structures. Plus, it means others feel it too. We aren’t alone.
This feeling isn’t unique to this time, either, although it is perhaps more acute and on a much larger scale. This peculiar ache comes upon us whenever we feel some aptitude or potential is being ignored. It atrophies, it festers.
This could mean we need an evolution of our selves, like when we are the lobster struggling for a new shell. It can put us in a weary haze. In this case, however, it’s more what our selves are exposed to, the stimulation from outside that we crave.
Writers of musicals know this well. There’s almost always an “I want” song near the beginning of musicals, allowing the protagonist to express how complicated it feels to be comfortable and yet learn for more.
It’s also a basic part of the Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey.
It’s a bizarre sort of thing really. Because to acknowledge that we ache for things we don’t’ know is to acknowledge that we are essentially programmed. We have genes that tell us what to do. And that’s a bit unsettling when you want to be the master of your own fate.
But it’s also freeing. Perhaps you aren’t bored because you are lazy or lack will power. Perhaps you are just meant for more, or meant for different.
In “Circe,” Circe feels out of sorts until she discovered her penchant for pharmacy.
“No wonder I have been so slow, I thought. All this while, I have been a weaver without wool, a ship without the sea. Yet now look where I sail.”
Of course once we get it, if we ever do, there’s always something else to long for. And that’s wired into us as well. In “The Forest Unseen,” David George Haskell describes his experience of satisfaction with the new kinds of light in the autumnal forest. “As I gaze through the rain, I realize that I am buoyed by an expanded quality of light under the opened forest canopy. My view of the forest seems deeper, fuller. I am released from a narrowness of luminosity that I hadn’t known existed.”
He goes on to compare this to seeing the full range of colors in artwork at a museum. We need to roam and see them all. “We crave rich variegations of light. Too much time in one ambience, and we long for something new. Perhaps this explains the sensory ennui of those who live under unchanging skies. The monotony of blank sunny skies or an endless cloud ceiling deprives us of the visual diversity we desire.”
Feel your feelings. Name them. Describe them. Express them. And then use them – to get out there and seek all the wonder our universe has to offer. It’s still there, both outside and within. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go out and get it.