Category Archives: Self-Reliance

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.


Greatness : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 023

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

“The world has been instructed by its kings, who have so magnetized the eyes of nations. It has been taught by this colossal symbol the mutual reverence that is due from man to man. The joyful loyalty with which men have everywhere suffered the king, the noble, or the great proprietor to walk among them by a law of his own, make his own scale of men and things, and reverse theirs, pay for benefits not with money but with honor, and represent the law in his person, was the hieroglyphic by which they obscurely signified their consciousness of their own right and comeliness, the right of every man.”

This one difficult for me to understand. I think that he’s saying that royalty is the symbol for the greatness (even if they aren’t really so great) we know, at some level and to some degree, exists in every human being.

Celebrities… they’re just like us!

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.



Your Action Matters : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 022

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

“Our reading is mendicant and sycophantic. In history, our imagination plays us false. Kingdom and lordship, power and estate, are a gaudier vocabulary than private John and Edward in a small house and common day’s work; but the things of life are the same to both; the sum total of both is the same. Why all this deference to Alfred, and Scanderbeg, and Gustavus? Suppose they were virtuous; did they wear out virtue? As great a stake depends on your private act to-day, as followed their public and renowned steps. When private men shall act with original views, the lustre will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.”

Status. Doesn’t. Matter.

It’s our actions that matter. Public or private, with or without fanfare.

It’s our day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment collective actions that create the world we live in. The single actions of Donald Trump, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or Bill Gates, or any other person with power may reach further than ours ever could. But our own actions, right here, right now, have more of an effect on the world we live in, right here, right now, than theirs ever could. Especially if the action we take is capitulation to their power.

Did anything in that passage resonate with you? Have an opinion you’d like to share? Feel free to drop your own thoughts in the comments.



Maybe You’re Just Crazy : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 021

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

“Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exists for him. But the man in the street, finding no worth in himself which corresponds to the force which built a tower or sculptured a marble god, feels poor when he looks on these. To him a palace, a statue, or a costly book have an alien and forbidding air, much like a gay equipage, and seem to say like that, ‘Who are you, Sir?’ Yet they all are his, suitors for his notice, petitioners to his faculties that they will come out and take possession. The picture waits for my verdict: it is not to command me, but I am to settle its claims to praise. That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead drunk in the street, carried to the duke’s house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke’s bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity to the fact, that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason, and finds himself a true prince.”

What if your entire life you’ve been insane? That everything “negative” that you’ve thought about yourself – as someone who isn’t good enough, someone who is too old, too young, too poor, too sick, too stupid – has been wrong.

Or… what if you’ve been right – up until this point you have been too old, too young, too poor, too sick, too stupid – but it’s only because you’ve fallen for the illusion that your circumstances make you who you are, so you’ve allowed yourself to become what you thought you were destined to be. Maybe if you were put into different circumstances, and were convinced that your previous ones were a mistake – all of that would change.

I’m not saying that any of this is true… just asking if you’re willing to entertain the possibility.

Are you even willing to be willing?

If you are willing (or at the very least willing to be willing), how can you change those circumstances? How can you work with the ones that you can’t change, and turn them into an asset?

How can you become the princess or prince that you, and only you, have the potential to be?

Did anything in that passage resonate with you? Have an opinion you’d like to share? Feel free to drop your own thoughts in the comments.


Get Out Of My Sun : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 020

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

“I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous henceforward. Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear a whistle from the Spartan fife. Let us never bow and apologize more. A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me. I will stand here for humanity, and though I would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurl in the face of custom, and trade, and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor working wherever a man works; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the centre of things. Where he is, there is nature. He measures you, and all men, and all events. Ordinarily, every body in society reminds us of somewhat else, or of some other person. Character, reality, reminds you of nothing else; it takes place of the whole creation. The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent. Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; —and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as, Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called “the height of Rome”; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.”

“A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me.”

I’ve mentioned this story before, but it really does bear repeating in light of the line above:

Alexander the Great went to meet the Cynic Philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, since Diogenes was one of the few famous philosophers and statesmen who hadn’t sought out Alexander to kiss his ass and ask for things. Alexander found him relaxing outside and asked Diogenes what he could do for him. Alexander was the most powerful person in the world, so Diogenes could have asked for anything humanly possible.

Diogenes said “Yes, there is something that you can do for me. Get out of my sun.”

Alexander was so impressed by this, and by the way Diogenes carried himself, that he said “If I wasn’t Alexander, I would want to be Diogenes.”

So Diogenes said “If I wasn’t Diogenes, I’d want to be Diogenes too.”


That is having a great man come to you and him wishing to please you, rather than the other way around.

“The man must be so much, that he must make all circumstances indifferent.”

You’ve gotta be bigger than your problems. T. Harv Eker has a great way of explaining this. Let’s put your ability to deal with problems and the problems themselves on a scale of one to ten. If you are at a one or a two on this scale, the biggest problems you’ll be able to deal with are also on that level of one or two (maybe a broken shoelace or a waiter not getting your order correct.) Someone who’s at a five will brush those off like they are nothing, but could be crushed by something a little bit bigger (car accident, financial problems.) A person at a 10? They can truly make “all circumstances indifferent”. She may not be able to change the circumstances, but she can learn to accept and even love them.

Those are my thoughts on the points that jumped out at me in this passage. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Feel free to drop them in the comments.


Consistency Not Necessary : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 019

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

“There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now. Greatness appeals to the future. If I can be firm enough to-day to do right, and scorn eyes, I must have done so much right before as to defend me now. Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. All the foregone days of virtue work their health into this. What makes the majesty of the heroes of the senate and the field, which so fills the imagination? The consciousness of a train of great days and victories behind. They shed an united light on the advancing actor. He is attended as by a visible escort of angels. That is it which throws thunder into Chatham’s voice, and dignity into Washington’s port, and America into Adams’s eye. Honor is venerable to us because it is no ephemeris. It is always ancient virtue. We worship it to-day because it is not of to-day. We love it and pay it homage, because it is not a trap for our love and homage, but is self-dependent, self-derived, and therefore of an old immaculate pedigree, even if shown in a young person.”

You gotta do what you gotta do. Even if what you do today seems to be completely at odds with what you did yesterday, if it brings you closer to being the person you want to be and living the life you want to live… do it.

Don’t keep doing things the same way just because that’s the way that you’ve always done it. Life is change. Growth is change. Accept it and embrace it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please drop them in the comments.


What You Are vs. What You Do : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 018

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

“I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza; —read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing, contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave that thread or straw he carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.”

There’s a quote out there (I’m sure I’m paraphrasing it) that I can’t find the source for: “What you are screams at me no matter what you do.”

Sure sounds a lot like “Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.”

When we do anything, we are doing it to and for the entirety of reality, because we are a part of that reality. No matter what those who peddle woo say, we aren’t the Universe. We are a tiny process of reality, like a wave on the ocean. But we *are* a part of it. That’s our nature.

No one but you can know what will fulfill your specific role as the unique wave that you are – your own way to fulfill that nature. You may not know yet, and if you don’t, keep exploring. Your chances of finding it are nearly zero if you don’t. Don’t worry if it seems “selfish”. If it’s good for you, it’s good for the universe, as long as it doesn’t harm another wave out there.

In my opinion, many of the mental health issues that are plaguing us today come from people violating their nature, thinking that they have to model what our sick society considers “success”. I was guilty of that for a long, long time, and I still catch my mind going there more often than I’d like to admit. Emerson may say that we can’t violate that nature – I think it’s more accurate to say that we can, but there’s a very real and very high price for doing that.

It’s just not worth it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please drop them in the comments.


A Foolish Consistency : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 017

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

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.— ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ —Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

There it is – possibly the most famous line that Emerson ever wrote:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

One thing that I’ve always thought about this quote is that he’s talking about a “foolish” consistency. Consistency can be good – consistency in brushing our teeth, taking showers, getting to work, being kind to others… that’s the good kind of consistency.

But if we are being consistent just because we have bought into the idea that others know better for us than we do ourselves, so we go along with the herd… not so good. Foolish, even. If going to work at a particular job is destroying your health (mentally or physically) – STOP IT. A few bucks a week isn’t worth it.

I know from personal experience – easier said than done. I’ve had jobs like that.  I would soldier on because I thought it was the right thing to do (“be a man and harden the fuck up!”) and/or because I thought I should be grateful to even have a job (“so many people don’t – count your blessings!”)

So I’d continue until I’d collapse. And I’d lose the job anyway because I couldn’t physically and mentally do it anymore.

And after recovering – I’d get another job. What??? Why didn’t I just quit and get another job before collapsing???

Because I was afraid of what others would think. I’d be a quitter, less of a man in their eyes. I’d be misunderstood.

Never again. Screw society’s consistency. I’m not comparing my mental health issues with the achievements of any of the giants he mentions… but I want to be great in my own way, on my own terms. Not in the eyes of others, but so that I can look in the mirror and honestly say “You done good, Lyman.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please drop them in the comments.


Live Ever In A New Day : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 016

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

“But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity, yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.”

“…bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day.”

Never mind the opinions of others about who they think that you are… what about your opinion of yourself?

I used to think that there was something really wrong with me – I was flaky as hell when it came to religions, philosophies, beliefs… I’d find something new, like Stoicism, or Buddhism, or Objectivism and run with it, dropping all of my previously held beliefs and become the servant of my new master.

The only thing “wrong” with that was in the becoming of the servant.

The continual exploration of new beliefs and ideas has made my life rich beyond measure.

Just because we believe “A” today doesn’t mean that we have to believe it tomorrow. And just because we believed “AB” yesterday doesn’t mean that we can’t drop the “B” today while holding onto the “A”.


“If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth, by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VI

Other People’s Comfort : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 015

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

“The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.”

You don’t have to be who you’ve always been to please other people. You don’t have to stay fat to make them comfortable, or continue to drink alcohol just to fit in, or quit the warehouse job that you love because “you have so much more potential”.

Others want to know what to expect from you. It’s not your responsibility to make them comfortable. Your identity is your own, and you can keep it or work on changing it whenever you want.

And you don’t have to believe anything from “Self-Reliance” just because Ralph Waldo says so.

Discover yourself. Create yourself.

Give no fucks about the opinions of others.