How Much Have I Changed? Looking Through My Old Quote Collection.

In my late teens and into my early 20’s I collected quotes I liked in a small brown journal. A few weeks ago, after a decade in my closet, I picked the journal back up and flipped through it. I have changed so much over the years, especially this past year. I think of myself as a different person than who I was at 19. Yet this little collection of quotes had a surprise for me. It showed me that my younger self was very much “me”. Maybe me in confusion, in fear, in darkness, in doubt, but still me.

I will share some of the quotes from this book. I will organize them into themes (in the journal they were written down as I found them – in no order). These quotes opened my eyes to how much younger me already “knew” about myself and life, in a sort of non-experiential and even non-understanding way.

Younger me “knew”:

1. The Importance of the Heart and Love

“The only way I can live is according to my heart, and you lived by rules. I loved you just so, but you probably loved me in order to save me, to instruct me.” (Tolstoy)

“Ah, one thing is sure: the heart alone is the source of our happiness.” (Goethe)

“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections.” (Keats)

“Dreamer though you are. It is you who’s been my signpost so far” (Belle and Sebastian)

“All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.” (Tolstoy)

“She told him she loved him because she understood him completely, because she knew that he had a loving heart and that everything he loved was good.” (Tolstoy)

“For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” (Sasha Sagan)

2. My Mind Causes My Suffering

“At that time, having understood clearly for the first time that for every human being and for himself nothing lay ahead but suffering, death, and eternal oblivion, he decided that it was impossible to live that way, that he either had to interpret his life in a way that did not seem to be an evil mockery on the part of some devil, or else shoot himself…..But he did neither one thing nor the other he went on living, thinking, and feeling; he even married at just this time, had many joys, and was happy whenever he wasn’t thinking about the meaning of his life…..what did it mean? It meant he was living well but thinking badly.”(Tolstoy)

“My heart’s not dead; it’s just really bad weather in my temporary head.” (Of Montreal)

“This identity I’ve composed out of terror, has become oppressive now. I must deny, defy, defeat this dark assignment. I’m over it now; I’m so over it now.” (Of Montreal)

“Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts or happenings. It consist mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.” (Mark Twain)

“And yesterday I saw you kissing tiny flowers

But all that lives is born to die.

And so I say to you that nothing really matters,

And all you do is stand and cry.” (Led Zeppelin)

3. My Vision of Reality Wasn’t Clear, Yet I “Knew” What Reality Was

“I’ve discovered nothing. I’ve simple learned what I knew already.” (Tolstoy)

“Without going out of your door
You can know all things on earth
Without looking out of your window
You could know the ways of heaven
The farther one travels
The less one knows
The less one really knows. Arrive without traveling
See all without looking
Do all without doing” (Beatles/Tao Te Ching)

“If the doors of perception where cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite” (William Blake)

“I found myself all at once on the brink of panic. This, I suddenly felt, was going too far. Too far even though the going was into intenser beauty, deeper significance. The fear, as I analyze it in retrospect, was of being overwhelmed, or disintegrating under the pressure of reality greater than a mind, accustomed to living most of the time in a cozy world of symbols, could possibly bear. (Huxley)

“God is neither the see-er or the seen, but the “seeing” (?)

“And our greatest illusion is to believe that we are what we think ourselves to be.” (Amiel)

“the end result is the “burn out”, who although still fully in contact with reality, refuses to acknowledge its intrinsic meaning” (Amiel)

“I’m happy just because I found out I am really no one.” (Bright Eyes)

“The intense feeling of unknowingly knowing that there is something which cannot be seen” (?)

“All things are full of gods” (Thales)

“The finest words in the world are only vain sounds if you cannot understand them” (Anatole France)

“I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.” (Sylvia Plath)

4.Life Has Goodness, Beauty, and Meaning – But Those Paths Are Challenging

“It (life) has the incontestable meaning of the goodness I have the power to put into it.” (Tolstoy)

“Man is a mystery: If you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery because I want to be a man.” (Dostoevsky)

“Winston watched with a vague sense of reverence. For whom, for what, was that bird sining? No mate, no rival, was watching it. What made it sit at the edge of the lonely wood and pour its music into nothingness?” (George Orwell)

“There is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory from childhood or home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us. Perhaps we may even grow wicked later on, may be unable to refrain from a bad action, may laugh at men’s tears…but however bad we may become – which God forbid – yet……..perhaps that one memory may keep him from great evil and he will reflect and say “Yes, I was good and brave and honest then!” Let him laugh to himself, that’s no matter, a man often laughs at what’s good and kind. That’s only from thoughtlessness. But I assure you, that as he laughs he will say at once in his heart “No I do wrong to laugh, for that’s not a thing to laugh at”. (Dostoevsky)

“It’s so easy to laugh
It’s so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind” (The Smiths)

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man” (Shakespeare)

“I somehow see what’s beautiful in things that are ephemeral” (She&Him)

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy . Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” (Dalai Lama)

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” (Kurt Vonnegut)

5. I Fear Other People And Myself

“So this is what hell is. I would never have believed it. You remember: the fire and brimstone, the torture. Ah! the farce. There is no need for torture: hell is other people.” (Sartre)

“I am disturbed to find he values my mind and abilities more highly than my heart, which is my only source of pride, and indeed of everything, all my strength and happiness and misery. The things I know, anyone can know – but my heart is mine and mine alone.” (Goethe)

“The fear of what I love is my fatality.” (?)

“How I should long to know others as I know myself.” (Tolstoy)

“What uniform can I wear to hide my heavy heart? – It is too heavy. It will always show. Jacques felt himself growing gloomy again. He was well aware that to live on earth a man must follow its fashions, and hearts were no longer worn.” (Jean Cocteau)

“It’s not my fault if I have feelings. You don’t have to humiliate me.” (Science of Sleep Movie)

“I am often filled with longings and think :ah, if only you could breathe onto the paper in all its fullness and warmth what is so alive in you, so that it would mirror your soul as your soul is the mirror of God in His infinity! – My friend – But it will be the end of me. The glory of these visions, their power and magnificence, will be my undoing” (Goethe)

“In the act of loving you arm another person against you” (?)

“As strange as it seems, I’d rather dissolve than have you ignore me” (MGMT)

“Could I create myself anew, I would not fail in pleasing you.” (Joseph Merrick)

6. I Doubted Everything

“My principal sin is doubt. I doubt everything, and am in doubt most of the time.” (Tolstoy)

“This sadness will last forever” (Van Gogh)

“I know, I know that I shall never again meet anything or anybody who will inspire me with passion. You know, it’s quite a job starting to love somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. there is even a moment, in the very beginning, when you have to jump across a precipice : If you think about it you don’t do it. I know I’ll never jump again.” (Sartre)

 “Romeo: Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk’st of nothing.

Mercutio: True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind.” (Shakespeare)

“Something or someplace that you miss deeply, wish you could be there or have it again. A nostalgic yearning for something which may no longer exist, melancholic, fatalist overtone that the object of longing may never return.” (Saudade Definition)

“I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.” (Edna Millay)

“Are they nothing but shadows and apparitions if we are happy?” (Goethe)

“Ah, love, let us be true.

To one another! for the world, which seems.

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain.

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.” (Matthew Arnold)

It seems I’m not so much “changing” through time as rediscovering long buried parts of myself. Parts that even though they were buried seemed able to express themselves through my recognition and love of the good and beauty I saw in these quotes. By rediscovering and bringing long buried parts of myself to the surface, I can heal what needs healing and live a more full version of life and myself. With more of my real self at the surface I am better able to see that the good and the beautiful I have always loved is real and true. It is alive and living within me, others, and in the world…..and it always has been.

A Turning From Inner Darkness to Inner Light

In my lowest depths of being lost, a meaninglessness of life and myself weighed heavy on me. I felt emptied out, neither happy or sad, just nothing. Every task, every day big and small was an annoying little burden. Nothing felt particularly challenging or painful just meaningless. Effort in any direction felt like too much effort. “What’s the point?” was the common mood. But somehow lost within these dark thoughts and feelings my true self remained unconvinced. She was somewhat afraid and kept reminding me “something is wrong, these thoughts are not you”. She sensed how far astray I had wandered from myself, how attentively and deeply I was staring into darkness and delusions, into meaninglessness.

In this state one of my favorite books, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, started popping into mind. Looking back, it seems my real self was trying to turn my attention to the light. Specifically it was the a character’s final realizations that kept arising within my mind: (Big Anna Karenina SPOILER below, so skip following quote if you want to avoid spoiler)

“but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.”

When I had read Anna Karenina many years before those words, that character, Tolstoy, had caught my attention and showed me a glimpse of the beautiful and good meaning within me, within us all, and within the world. I had been too lost within delusions (of myself and the world) at the time to see any truth to Tolstoy’s words though. I recognized how profound it was, but couldn’t see how it had any relevance to my “real life”. So my attention quickly moved back to the many distractions of “true” life.

Yet my heart must have stored away Tolstoy’s words. For when the many delusions/darkness (which I had been staring into for as long as I can remember) started to feel meaningless, suddenly I was free to turn my attention elsewhere. I started encountering my real self more often. This idea from Tolstoy, my “power” to add even a small “positive meaning of goodness” to life, was one of the earliest beautiful and good ideas I kept encountering. Others followed as she poured out the beautiful and good (sacred even) thoughts, feelings, and dreams, etc. which I had gathered through life and protected away in my heart.

Finally I was back to myself and the world. For the first time in my adult life I was facing the beautiful and the good with enough freedom from delusions/darkness to have FAITH. Faith that there was truth in beauty and goodness It wasn’t a truth I could immediately see, but I was determined to no longer reject it outright as false. The old life long beliefs had finally shown their real face, paths of emptiness and meaninglessness to an empty and meaningless destination. They no longer had any appeal. I was determined to find and see the goodness and the beauty everywhere. It felt my heart already knew it was there (maybe it remembers what we can not from childhood). I started seeking out others’ visions and understandings throughout history on the beauty and the goodness (on that which they love).