Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and character they chance to see, —painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered these sayings, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.”
This reminds me of the parable of the raft from Buddhism. A person uses a raft to cross a river, but once they don’t need the raft anymore they leave it be. Why would they continue to carry it? They can point others to the raft, explain how they used it to cross the river, but carrying it around for the rest of their life? Not necessary.
Sure, maybe they’ll encounter another river. But there will usually be another raft, sometimes exactly the same as the previous one, sometimes different.
Some may not even need the raft – maybe they can swim well enough to cross the river without it.
Some may need a different raft, one that is larger or smaller, with bigger or smaller oars.
Some may need to strap themselves in more tightly than others, holding on for dear life when the river gets rough.
Some may may prefer to pitch and yaw with the rolls of the river.
I’ve consumed a ridiculous amount of self-help material in the 49 years that I’ve been alive. Some of it served me after encountering it, while much of it was complete crap. But even most of the useful stuff has had a shelf life – useful at the time I read it, but when I got across that particular river in my life, it was time to put it down.
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.