Category Archives: Self-Reliance

You Are a Part of the World : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 033

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

“If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let us at least resist our temptations; let us enter into the state of war, and wake Thor and Woden, courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts. This is to be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife, —but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. —But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.”

Maybe you can’t do everything, but you can do something. The “sanctities and faith” that he’s talking about here are those two ourselves. While we may not be able to physically break away from others, we can at the very least not be what we are told we “have to” be simply because we are told to be that.

“I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth.”

Living with self-reliance is not only good for you, but for the world.
If self-reliance is good for the world, then self-reliance is good for you.
You are a part of the world.
The world needs you to be you.
It’s not too late to start.

Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.


Don’t Be Like Them : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 032

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

“But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I have all men’s. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say,— `Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love.””

“Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood?”

There are only two reasons a person would “assume the faults” of others:

  1. They aren’t seen as faults.
  2. The assumer wants to be accepted.

#1 can be understandable if the assumer doesn’t have the information necessary to make an informed decision, or if they *do* have the information but don’t think that they are faults in the first place.

#2 comes from a basic instinct to “survive and procreate.” In the early history of human beings, no one could stand alone, isolated from a social group, and survive for long.

“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say,— `Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion.”

And now, about 180 years later, the knockers are on steroids. Stop letting them distract you! You have great things to do, and binge watching a season of 90 Day Fiance (giving myself the side eye here) probably isn’t going to help.

But it’s not just the “trash TV.” Political debate, health advice, personal development material… 80% of it is also trash, 10% is actually dangerous, and 10% is useful. And I think I’m being generous with the useful estimate.

“No man can come near me but through my act.”

To a large degree, you are responsible for what you let into your life, into your body, and into your mind. In modern times, the whole world is sitting “around our hearth.” Choose carefully who you’ll let stay, and who you will show to the door.

Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.


Evaluate Before Following : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 031

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

“Thus all concentrates: let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and institutions, by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our own law demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune beside our native riches.”


I had to go out to Google to get an idea of what the hell this paragraph was talking about. It seems that it’s about worrying about your own stuff, and only your own stuff. Trust the ideas that are right for you. When a new one comes along, evaluate it according to your own values. Don’t just follow it blindly because it’s something that others say you should do, or even because your own inner critic tells you to.

But don’t just reject ideas either. Let them “take their shoes off” and stay a while. But once your “simplicity judge[s] them” based on your “native riches”, if they aren’t a good fit with your life, kick the fuckers out.

[thanks to The Simple Dollar and Quizlet for the information about this passage]

Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.


The Ever-Blessed ONE : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 030

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

“This is the ultimate fact which we so quickly reach on this, as on every topic, the resolution of all into the ever-blessed ONE. Self-existence is the attribute of the Supreme Cause, and it constitutes the measure of good by the degree in which it enters into all lower forms. All things real are so by so much virtue as they contain. Commerce, husbandry, hunting, whaling, war, eloquence, personal weight, are somewhat, and engage my respect as examples of its presence and impure action. I see the same law working in nature for conservation and growth. Power is in nature the essential measure of right. Nature suffers nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of the self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul.”

It may seem all new agey and woo woo, but we – you, I, and literally everything in the universe, are one. I think that’s what Ralphy means by the “ever-blessed One.”

No, this doesn’t mean that you are all things, like some spiritual teachings say. But you are an integral part of all things. An important cog in the workings of the universe. Just like your liver is a part of your body, and necessary for it to function, you are a part of the universe, and necessary for it to function.

Even when your consciousness is gone, and your body is decaying, it will provide for the earth in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

Again… we are all waves on the ocean of life – and the ocean would be incomplete without each and every one of them.

Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.


Do Nothing and Die : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 029

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

“Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the world hates, that the soul becomes; for that for ever degrades the past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame, confounds the saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why, then, do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present, there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies, because it works and is. Who has more obedience than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric, when we speak of eminent virtue. We do not yet see that virtue is Height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.”

There is only power in action.

In the template for these entries, I usually use “blah blah blah” as a placeholder until I’m ready to write my part. Because as I’m saying it, that’s all it is. Blah blah blah… it’s nothing until it’s put into actual practice out there in the real world.

Do nothing –> get nothing. Actually, it’s more dangerous than that. Do nothing –> degrade.

Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.


Transcendence : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 028

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

“And now at last the highest truth on this subject remains unsaid; probably cannot be said; for all that we say is the far-off remembering of the intuition. That thought, by what I can now nearest approach to say it, is this. When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;——the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. It shall exclude example and experience. You take the way from man, not to man. All persons that ever existed are its forgotten ministers. Fear and hope are alike beneath it. There is somewhat low even in hope. In the hour of vision, there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea, —long intervals of time, years, centuries, —are of no account. This which I think and feel underlay every former state of life and circumstances, as it does underlie my present, and what is called life, and what is called death.”

I’ve always thought that it was a bit ironic that I was using another man’s words to base my ideas of self-reliance on. But just as we leave the raft behind, when we get to the place where we can live to the tune of our iron string, we transcend those things that we’ve built our lives upon, and become something completely new.

We might use Socrates’ hammer, Emerson’s wood, some glass from Einstein, a bit of carpet from Aurelius, the historical Buddha’s tape measure, Christ’s concrete, Hayes’ plastic… but the house of ourselves is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Thoughts? Feel free to drop them in the comments.


A Note on the Self-Reliance Series

The Self-Reliance series hasn’t been abandoned – it’s on a hiatus for about four more weeks.

I’ve decided that this six-week study of the pivots from Dr. Steven Hayes’ book “A Liberated Mind” will add more value to our lives.

I’ve also decided that there’s nothing wrong with stopping something that is less valuable, no longer valuable, or going on a break. Emerson doesn’t care. I may be flaky when it comes to my interests, but that’s OK. More variety can be a good thing!

But I’m also keeping in mind that too much variety can keep us from going deep – which is why I’m focusing on one thing at a time, with a plan to return to my previous project in the future.

Just another example of my heart vibrating to that iron string.

Now you – go and vibrate the fuck out of today!


Let The Raft Go : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 027

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.


Enough As You Are : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 026

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.


My God Is Bigger Than Your Box : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 025

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

“The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speaketh he should communicate, not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the centre of the present thought; and new date and new create the whole. Whenever a mind is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, —means, teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour. All things are made sacred by relation to it, —one as much as another. All things are dissolved to their centre by their cause, and, in the universal miracle, petty and particular miracles disappear. If, therefore, a man claims to know and speak of God, and carries you backward to the phraseology of some old mouldered nation in another country, in another world, believe him not. Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fulness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence, then, this worship of the past? The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the soul. Time and space are but physiological colors which the eye makes, but the soul is light; where it is, is day; where it was, is night; and history is an impertinence and an injury, if it be any thing more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming.”

“We’ve always done it that way!” The siren song of stagnation.

“Our way of doing it is the only way!” Ego run amok.

“You must believe as we believe, or off to eternal burning you go!” Sorry, but God is bigger than your box.

Find the Source for yourself. Of course, take the advice of others who have been there and done it. In the beginning, you may need to take a whole lot of advice, run nearly everything by someone else – I had to do this in order to quit alcohol and drugs. But don’t get stuck there.

You may be an acorn now, but if you take care of yourself and allow others to help, you can become a tree.

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.