Justification for Self-Reliance : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 024

Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin. For, the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from time, from man, but one with them, and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed. We first share the life by which things exist, and afterwards see them as appearances in nature, and forget that we have shared their cause. Here is the fountain of action and of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man wisdom, and which cannot be denied without impiety and atheism. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams. If we ask whence this comes, if we seek to pry into the soul that causes, all philosophy is at fault. Its presence or its absence is all we can affirm. Every man discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind, and his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a perfect faith is due. He may err in the expression of them, but he knows that these things are so, like day and night, not to be disputed. My wilful actions and acquisitions are but roving; —the idlest reverie, the faintest native emotion, command my curiosity and respect. Thoughtless people contradict as readily the statement of perceptions as of opinions, or rather much more readily; for, they do not distinguish between perception and notion. They fancy that I choose to see this or that thing. But perception is not whimsical, but fatal. If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and in course of time, all mankind, —although it may chance that no one has seen it before me. For my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.”

I’m a skeptic when it comes to spiritual things. Not a “Nope, if there isn’t any real, peer reviewed, accepted by authorities in the field evidence then it’s a bunch of bullshit” kind of skeptic (although there’s nothing wrong with that in some areas), but more of the “evidence is necessary, but experiential, anecdotal, personal evidence must be considered” type. Claims must be tested – but testing them in light of my own experience is sufficient if they produce the results I’m after. People (like past Lyman) tend to talk about things like the Placebo Effect in a pejorative sense – but why not use it to your own advantage? Without harming others, of course.

We are all one, and by “We” I’m referring to everything, not just human beings. It’s all connected in the same way that your little finger is connected to your big toe – all part of one body. My understanding of this passage is that we are connected to a Source that is greater than ourselves. It isn’t that it guides us like some old man in the sky letting us know what to do next – it is a part of us, like a child is a part of their parent.

Like a wave is part of the ocean.

We are all, literally, children of God (for lack of a better term).

*That* is the Self that I think he’s referring to. Brings a whole new dimension to the title “Self-Reliance”, don’t you think?

That is where the justification for relying on yourself comes from – your connection to this higher power, whatever you want to call it.

Examine your thoughts and feelings – don’t discount even the most seemingly insignificant of them – even the “bad” ones, even the painful ones. They all have something to tell you, whether you want to get the message or not.

What do you think about this passage? Have an opinion you’d like to share? Feel free to drop your own thoughts in the comments.


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