– simple thoughts & writings &c. by Elizabeth Heimbaugh –

Category: Journal

Illusion

From the diary of a darkened soul:

The time is passing by and you haven’t done a thing worth remembering, for goodness’ sake….

My faith is in a pit. The things I once believed to be true turn out to be illusion—I was deceived by the voice which I wanted to be true but which was really just a product of my crazy imagination. What a loon. I’m always thinking things will work out so pretty and nice, but the truth is that things fall apart. They fall apart and I don’t know what to do. One can keep having faith and trusting in the face of all these demons, but isn’t that an irrational thing to do—irresponsible, even? How can it be that the soul who desires goodness so strongly, with every fiber of her being, can be led so far astray? The disappointment is too hard for this kind of soul to bear.

I want to talk to God and turn to Him for help, but how can I do that if I don’t trust Him anymore? I feel helpless in the absence of recourse to a Higher Power whom I know is all-good. What’s the matter with my mind? Playing tricks on me to lead me into a darkness I can’t escape—where’s the good in that? One shouldn’t be on the outs with oneself. One shouldn’t be on the outs with God. But how is it possible to keep believing in Someone who seems—I’m sorry to say it—abusive of your innocent trust and simple pleas?

I can’t articulate what I want to say. The emotions are hard to translate into words. But the thing that bothers me most is simply the fact that, for all the years I’ve spent loving Someone, it’s possible that He doesn’t even exist, that all this love was misplaced, misused, misspent. Why is the world unjust? Why do people deceive? How can one trust when her trust leads to heartache and fear and a perpetual sense of doubt? It’s hard for the idealists to live in this world, for reality often disappoints the dreams they’ve played out in their minds. So what if reality is more real? It’s also darker, rougher, harder to bear. What’s the point of pretending to like something that, in fact, you don’t happen to like at all?

A Simple Question

In the morning, when you first begin to remember that there’s a world waiting for you to show up in, it’s important to ask God a simple question: What can I do today to bring more light into the lives of the people I meet? I know that this can be a hard question to ask when you yourself are feeling steeped in darkness, wrapped around with a blanket of pure and simple despair. How can your life bring light to anyone else when your candle seems altogether snuffed out, your life-bulb altogether dimmed? …

Here’s the answer to the question that has been plaguing you all this time:

Don’t be afraid to accept the mystery of a love that desires more for you than you could even desire for yourself.

I know. It seems facile, simple, pat. I know it’s hard to believe when the darkness keeps creeping in and putting a damper on your sense of hope, your sense of peace.

I know it’s not easy to accept a belief in goodness when the goodness in your life seems to have disappeared, vanished into the space of a terrible unknown.

One might even ask: How can a reasonable soul believe what the mind suggests, with all the best evidence, to be untrue? Isn’t it a betrayal of logic, an act of slander to one’s integrity, to maintain faith in the things the senses reveal to be unreal, unfounded, unamenable to the truth?

But, wait. There’s more to be said in the stillness of the night. When you quiet your mind, dismissing the voices that echo in the cavern of thought, you begin to intuit the presence of some other force—some kind of energy that keeps you alert and watchful even at the midnight hour.

Encouragement

A few words of encouragement for a darkened soul:

The light will shine again and soon. Don’t despair because things are looking unclear. There is always a murky river to wade through before you reach the sea. It’s all right to have your doubts, but it’s too soon to throw away your whole framework of life just because a couple of things don’t seem to fit. The world is a mysterious place. Sometimes the answers find us long after we have started to seek them out; the waiting is hard, but only the lighthearted will find their rest in this life—so lighten your heart, unburden your soul, and leave the rest to God.

Sky-Gazing

The stars come out each night to remind us of greater things. If we pause our daily toils and gaze at the sky, counting the stars we see, we briefly leave our regular sphere of existence and reach out to a place and a phenomenon that are beyond our grasp.

When we stop to consider the stillness of the night—in the country, especially, but also in the city—we remember, for a moment, some ancient connection that speaks to our souls and brings to life the flicker of order that pervades the universe and encircles us all in a great net of intricacy and quiet.

For those of us who desire a sense of meaning in our lives but fail to latch onto anything substantial, fail to be fed with something that satisfies—it is useful to send up our prayers, our hopes, our worries, and our doubts to the nighttime sky, reassured that our troubles will not be too big for something so vast and so deep.

For only when we believe that there is a vessel greater than ourselves—capable of holding all the cares and duties of life without bursting at the seams—can we relax our grip on life (which can sometimes become a chokehold) and lose a bit of ourselves to a way that is grander, more meaningful, more complete.

Simple Remembrance of Love

The burning of soul that one sometimes feels in the midst of prayer or praising God can represent the human desire for union with Someone greater, bigger, more full of love.

Often, it strikes me that I know so little as to be considered dumb in the life of prayer—for what was once a certainty dissolves into doubt and the order of importance of questions pursued—Who am I? Who is God? Does life have a purpose we’re meant to find?—becomes obscure.

The truth is, when it comes to knowing how to speak about something ineffable—the words are hard to acquire. It would be better, I think, to be still, to keep the mouth from opening at all—except that this is an impossible thing to ask, given how much the mind wants to discuss that which consumes it.

In the winter of one’s life—which is to say, when one has fallen into a period of coldness and doubt, and when the causes for being happy are hard to come by—it becomes important to remember what came before, in the times when life was bright, when the sun was warm on your face. For one’s job in such seasons is to overcome the sense of being lost, to eschew the belief in one’s inability to move or do or think—and recover, by means of recalling the good, an uncanny sense of purpose that comes to those who open their minds and hearts to possibilities of life and love.

In the end, what gives us strength is the simple remembrance of Love. If we can find the source of this Love inside ourselves—tucked in the corners of our souls—we have all we need to step into the light, prepared to fail sometimes, but also convinced of our ability to stand up again, unstirred from our purpose, which is, today and tomorrow and the day after that, to burn our lamps as brightly as we can and set the world aflame with a life devoted to beauty and truth and all that is good.

Career Advice

This is my advice to you:

Stop trying to figure out what is going to happen next and simply choose the things that make you happy today. You can’t know for sure what turn of events your life will take next year, next week, or even tomorrow, so don’t feel like you need to have everything projected and anticipated down to the finest detail.

If you really want to be happy in life, you need to stop worrying what other people are going to think of you and simply follow the guidance of your soul. Your soul won’t lead you down a path that keeps you trapped and miserable and wanting to get out—this is not the way of the soul. Your soul wants much kinder things for you and will be a reliable guide—a reliable friend—in your pursuit of a meaningful life.

As for the practical side of things: just do what you’ve been doing, but make sure you have plenty of time for things that make your heart come alive. You don’t need to be one of the people who works 80 hours a week just to find your way to the top of the barrel. There’s always a way to live on your own terms, and if you have the courage to act in harmony with your spirit—that is, to live the way your truest self is calling out for you to live—then you will find a way being made and things coming together in a manner that other people may have thought impossible.

Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in life: those who hope and those who despair.

But what about the people who do both? you say.

Well, yes, of course: these two qualities can form a peculiar sort of admixture in the souls of certain individuals. These are the people who live life as a balancing act, constantly divided inside themselves by contradictions which threaten to turn the simplest sense into the most complicated confusion. These people have a difficult time with life—getting their heads together takes much more effort than it ought—but they’re also an interesting bunch, and they tend to see the world from a point of view which may surprise you, not infrequently, with its unusual insights into the nature of things.

Speak Simply

Open the book to the page of wisdom and count the words. Are they many or few? What else can you say of them? Are they noisy, full of air? Or trim, compact, containing just the meaning they intend to deliver—nothing more nor less?

You can see that, in the ways of the wise, less is often more. This is because we spend too much time imagining that things are important when they are not, and in the process we obfuscate the things of real value in our lives and in our conversations.

It is a relief to pare down unnecessary words. When you speak more simply, you travel with a lighter sack and you get the chance to communicate the essence of the ideas on your mind and in your heart. When you talk too much, you get carried away by the sound of things, and forget the sense. It is an excusable fault, but it weighs you down and, after a while, tires you out.

The solution is simple:

When obliged to speak your mind, use the words that come first to your heart. If you pay more attention to the center of things (that is, the heart, rather than the mind), you will find yourself speaking with a new authority. Not a haughty one, or unapproachable; neither of these is what we are after. Instead, you will speak with the authority of one who says (or tries to say) only what she judges to be real and true, and your words will feel more solid, more precise. After a while, you will notice that you have come closer to describing your thoughts than when you used twice the number of words to get you there.

In the end, we all have our characteristic styles and rhythms. It is not for everyone to take the austerest path. Goodness forbid! Your manner of expression must be consistent with who you are! But there is always a little room for us to be quieter and to discover the riches that are waiting for us between the commas and—–gasps of air.

The Relief of Not Having to Explain Yourself

Harvard Law School, NW Corner Building, WCC

So many things on the mind, so many questions to express, but always the difficulty in pouring out the thoughts in a satisfactory way.

One thing that makes me happy about God is that He already knows everything that happens in my life, down to the minutest of details, and including the thousands of little thoughts and inclinations that dash all around my mind and heart. What I mean is that it’s a relief not to have to explain to Him the reasons I think such-and-such, or to muddle through the work of describing a particular habit (or thought, or question, or desire) that perplexes or confuses or troubles me. In life, with other people, I often find it to be just too much work to explain something in the way I want to explain it—because it becomes a near-impossible task, trying to outline every nuance that will unambiguously illuminate the thing I’m trying to get at in the mind of the person I’m talking to (especially if the thing is important to me). The result is that, many times, I just avoid the topic altogether, and allow it to keep floating on in the private cavities of my thoughts. You see, even now I’m encountering the problem I speak of—because here I am, trying to articulate this property of God that makes me so happy, and I feel I’m not really expressing the idea well at all. Ah, but the effort is valiant in itself, no? Anyway, I guess what it boils down to is that it’s simply a relief to be known so entirely, so completely and thoroughly, by another Person, and to know that the intentions of your heart are understood, even amid the clutter of innumerable words, behaviors, gestures, and thoughts that would lead anyone else astray. This applies both when the hidden phenomena are good, and when they’re bad. (Because, indeed, there can be great freedom in letting your imperfections be disclosed, without buffer or polish or half-knowledge, to someone else.) And then, of course, there’s the beautiful fact that none of this—none of the tortuous confusions or stubborn bad habits—manages to surprise God; nor do these things ever provoke Him into accepting you even a little bit less. His calm acceptance of you gives you the steadiness and courage to, in turn, be calm and accepting with yourself. And if that’s not relief, I don’t know what is.

P.S. I wrote this entry while sitting in the student commons (just off the dining hall) of the Harvard Law School. I’m not a law student, but the building is nice and the food is good! See photo of fancy reading room, above (credit).

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a little bolder, a little sillier, a little wiser. To entertain these desires doesn’t require that you sacrifice your goal of self-acceptance. People often make the mistake of thinking that allowing someone the freedom to be himself means precluding all expectations of growth or change. But this isn’t really the case. Because in the long run, change is inevitable—so why not wish for a change in the direction of a fuller, more fulfilling life? It’s OK to wish for the attainment of things which you don’t yet have, while keeping in mind that the reason you seek them is not to become a different person, but only to become the happier and more fully alive version of yourself. Is it not so?