The Cultivation of Tenderness for Incompletely Satisfied Longings

The title to this essay comes from the book titled, the Gypsies, by Jan Yoors, a flemish-born man who joined the Lowara Rom at the age of 12 and lived with them for several years, an almost too-good-to-be-true story. One of his Rom adult mentors reminds him gently of the importance of “cultivating” that tenderness mentioned above, when they notice his un-gypsy and clutching behavior.

As I transition more and more into an animist paradigm (not a one-time or easy task, as I’ve written about before), this notion keeps me an almost constant company.

As an inmate of this culture, for years I’ve hungered after instant gratification – to have everything I want whenever I want it. My journey into my body as a center (rather than my center lying in material objects, or future relationships, out there somewhere), and into the fleshing-out of the moment, has caused me to realize that sometimes I simply find myself hungry, dirty, wet, cold, uncomfortable, or (the hardest for me right now) lonely. And I can just sit with it.

I can find my relationship with the world change in the blink of an eye, as I transition from a hungry, grasping predator’s eye, to the savoring of the sweetness of lack, the appreciation of an empty space (or partly-filled space) within.

Without a doubt, the Rom, as a tribal (in Daniel Quinn’s definition of the word) and nomadic people, have developed a culture-wide expertise in the wealth of the moment. In his book, Jan Yoors describes moments which verge on an animistic view of the world. The sheer time-richness the nomadic Rom possess empowers their ability to rehabilitate horses (and make a tidy profit at market), recover from psychological trauma, and raise competent and powerful children into masterful adulthood.

So many pieces of their culture exist to reinforce the continuing presence of the moment, and one’s focus there. “The cultivation of tenderness for incompletely satisfied longings”…almost as if to make a kind of life-art, a sweetness of mood, that translates so easily into the more tangible art of poetry, song, and speech, “the wild, sad, songs” of the Rom.

I recognize this attitude in other animist cultures I interact with, in my friendships with their members. The ease of melancholy to make beauty, and then transition simply into celebration and joy.

If I played at all with stereotypes, I would say, “hippie” culture differs from “gypsy” culture, in that hippies seem to place an emphasis on positive feelings, on love, peace, and happiness; whereas the “gypsies” seem to value the entire emotional range which a human can express…anger, fear, misery, joy, love, peace, no emotions fall outside it, and tears fall as easily as laughter, down, down to feed the earth.

Why make a distinction between “hippie” and “gypsy”? Obviously, neither label can describe any particular person. But I’ve always felt something hidden, and thus disatisfying, in the “it’s all good” philosophy that seems popularly connected with the subculture of the hippies. Some things don’t feel good…but we can sing about them. And singing feels good. For the Tzutujil Maya (according to Martin Prechtel), “singing” and “weeping” belong to the same word, a word that also can describe the Tzutujil shaman who heals the sick.

Healing, singing, weeping…a tenderness for incompletely satisfied longings.

Written by Willem