Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say `I think,’ `I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”
Doh! This whole project is about quoting a “saint or sage.” But don’t they have something to teach us?
Sometimes. But often, instead of learning, we just parrot what they say and follow them blindly. Sometimes they only appear to be spiritual leaders, and following them can lead to horrifying results.
Those roses he mentions don’t appear out of thin air. Every single stage of their existence depends on something that came before, as far back as there was a before. And now, they depend on and are fed by the soil, the sun, the rain, and the air. But they don’t become them – they grow from them, becoming themselves in the process, each one unique no matter how similar they appear.
“There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.”
I’ve never liked the phrasing of this idea – the word “perfect” has too many associations with it for me – I think of a perfect circle or a perfect square. But there isn’t an equivalent when it comes to a perfect human being. But a complete human being? Hell, a complete being, with no need to improve? That’s something that I can get behind.
Not that we shouldn’t want to improve – but we don’t have to. At all. You are what you are right now, and that’s OK. There’s a word for something that continues to grow unchecked without regard for anything but it’s own increase – cancer.
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.