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

Category: Journal

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?

Un Viaggio in Italia

By the lake

This is the first real entry I’ve made since arriving in Italy over a month ago. It’s seven o’clock (or 19.00, as they would write it here) and I’m sitting by the lake, writing until it grows too dark to see, or until I get restless enough to hop on my bicycle and ride back home. I saw a boat on the lake—two men fishing. An occasional dog comes walking by, and there’s a full moon out tonight. (If crazy things begin to happen this week, we can blame it on the moon.) I’ve just come from Mass at the church near my apartment (the church is called Gradaro) and in a little bit I will prepare some dinner (maybe rice with vegetables and meat I bought from the farmers’ market—mercato contadino—in the town center). It’s a peaceful evening and I feel calm and content.

Since I’ve not been writing, there’s much to record and keep up with. But it’s overwhelming to think about getting it all down on paper! So I will just write what comes to mind, and take it slowly—piano, piano—bit by bit. Perhaps I will write one section at a time, accumulating several small entries over the next few days.

Read the rest of this entry »

Potted Plants and Reassurances against Insanity and Doubt

I haven’t been writing very much recently, but for the sake of posting something new, I combed through my (sparse) entries from the last few months and assembled a few excerpts hereEnjoy~

September

A few days ago, while I was sitting in the library studying for the MCAT, I observed a boy a little ways in the distance point to a potted tree and remark: “You know it’s real if it’s dying.”

What an interesting statement, I thought. Of course the boy was referring to the mottled trunk and the falling leaves of the tree, and proffering these markers as evidence that the plant was, indeed, not made of silk and plastic; but, without knowing it, the boy also happened to conjure a bit of Life Wisdom.

I didn’t think about the statement too much, only noticed that it had the ring of profundity and someone could make probably make something of it if they took the time to ponder it. I guess that’s the writer’s task, after all: to catch scraps of daily utterances that might have the gleam of truth in them, that retain the potential of something more elevated.

 

September

How does a person function when burdened by the awareness of the impossibility of the work that has been set to her? How does one stay sane in the midst of turmoil? Better to say, how does one stay sane in the midst of insanity? The answer, I suppose, is that a person must become bigger than the insanity, must expand her being until it swells in size, enough to contain all that threatens to overwhelm it—so that, in the end, one is not conquered, but one lives in harmony with the essence of that beloved Scripture observation: “And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

 

October

The voices in your head are not at odds with the voice in your heart, although sometimes they are led astray. What really needs to be said will be said by the clear voice of truth when the time is right. The rest is just entertainment for the ride.

 

October

The rays of light are hitting your face with the kind of grace that’s only seen in moments of pure luck. There are people in the kitchen, drinking cans of soda and cups of coffee like it was time to die. Well, there can’t be any reason to worry after this. All the crazies have left your mind and now there’s a lot of empty space to sit and think. When you feel the pressures of life, how do you respond? With a hopeful look to the future, or a sorrowful disdain for the present? You are burdened by many cares which don’t even belong to you. Your soul is buried beneath layers of fear that have nothing to do with the real truth. This is what makes your life so troubled, so hard: you work from a habit of fear and all that fills you is on a path to bring you dread. Shake it off before the load becomes too much to bear.

When your heart is in pain, what can you do? You wish to cry, but the time is not right, there are too many faces around, too many bodies to avoid. But if your heart were free of pain—if it could finally be free and light—what would you do? How would you live? The love would come light and easy and there would be no hindrance of doubt to weigh it down.

You’re often afraid of leaving God behind—of not serving Him in the right way. But, child, the truth is more magnificent than that; it’s wider and it gives you room to breathe. The truth is that God cannot be separated from you, and your ways are intertwined with His own.

Then the sun comes out and you aren’t sure what to do. The voices in your head come dutifully and quick—they are chatty and have much to say. Maybe if you give them an outlet—give them their (daily) 15 minutes of fame—they’ll quiet down and go rest in the corner. Maybe they just need to be subdued by a quick acknowledgement and some reassurance that they will be heard.

Now the time is short and you are wearing a crown of roses in your hair. Did someone forget to tell you that you’re a beautiful girl? Well, the time is too short and can’t be wasted in worry. The truth is that you have nothing to fear—all is well in the way of the soul, and the outside world responds. Don’t believe me? Try this piece of advice: Close your eyes, count to ten, and see the face that appears to you in the dark. Go on, try it. I know there is much nonsense in the writing of this book, but there is much sense in it, also, and I’d hate to see you throw out the baby with the bathwater, for fear of losing your heart to fickle things.