THE FOLLOWING IS Ralph
Waldo Emerson's essay, Self-Reliance, translated into
modern English. I have been studying this essay for years. I
consider it one of the most significant pieces of writing ever
written. I once typed the whole essay word for word and printed
it out on my computer as a booklet. I looked up all the words
I didn't know, and made footnotes of definitions for each word
on the page (and there were a lot of them). Read that here. I put the essay on tape and listened
to it over and over while driving. And I tried to apply it to
Then, to understand it
even more deeply, I went over it line by line, trying to write
what Emerson was saying in my own words. That rewrite project
is what follows. I do not feel I'm a better writer than Emerson.
I love his writing. I think it's very powerful. Some of his sentences
were so well-said, I included them in this translation just because
I didn't want to leave them out. My motivation for translating
it came from an entirely different source.
The idea was inspired by
a Cliff Notes. I had always considered Cliff Notes
as a kind of cheating. If you didn't want to read the real book,
you could read a condensed version that tells you everything
you need to know to pass a class. Then one day I saw the movie
Henry V. I really liked it but I only understood about
half of what was being said. They were speaking English, but
three things were hindering my understanding:
1. English was spoken differently
back then. They commonly used words we are now unfamiliar with.
2. Shakespeare was a poet,
so he often inverts sentences and uses unusual phrases in order
to make things sound poetic.
3. They were speaking with
an English accent.
Emerson's essay is difficult
for a modern American today for the first two reasons. Emerson
used words that, although I can find them in a dictionary, I've
never heard anyone say. And he was a poet, so some of his phrases
were meant to be savored rather than read only for their direct
One day I came across a
Cliff Notes on Henry V and I was curious what they
had to say, so I read it and found it a revelation. They explained
terms and phrases I didn't know. I remember, for example, the
phrase, "throwing down a gage." The Cliff Notes
explained this. It is an archaic term that means throwing gloves
at the feet of someone, which back then meant you were challenging
the person to a duel. I could have watched Henry V fifty
times and not ever figured that out. But after I learned it,
I understood better what was going on when I watched the movie
That's what I hope happens
after you read my translation. I hope you go back and enjoy Emerson's
original and eloquent essay,
and understand it better, and really appreciate his creative,
Here, then, is my translation
of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, Self-Reliance:
THE OTHER DAY, I read some original statements
written by a famous painter. Whenever I read something truly
original, I get a feeling. That feeling is far more valuable
than the statements themselves. The feeling fills me with a recognition
of a profound truth: That genius is simply to "believe your
own thought." "To believe that what is true for you
in your private heart is true for all [people]."
Speak what is true for you, and it will
almost always resonate in others.
The voice in your own mind is so familiar
to you that you give it no respect. Instead, you give too much
weight to the thought of others your neighbors, your teachers,
or some great thinker from the past. But what makes great thinkers
great is that they didn't disregard their own thought. They expressed
what they truly thought; they listened to their own voice.
You must learn to detect the light that
shines from within and pay it more respect than the blinding
illumination of the great minds of all history. When you look
at wonderful works of art, let it teach you this.
Let the flashes of genius that hit your
mind urge you to stick with your own "spontaneous impression
with good-humored inflexibility" especially when
everyone seems to think otherwise. Speak out what your own perception,
your own impression tells you is true and speak with boldness
As Emerson wrote, "envy is ignorance;
imitation is suicide." You have something unique, original,
and great to express. Try to imitate someone else and you kill
off that originality which is you. Envy is a lack of appreciation
of your own special gifts.
Nobody knows what your special gifts are,
and you won't know until you try to express them. Follow your
own interest. It will lead you where you need to go.
You are an expression of this vast and
wondrous universe. You are one of the things the universe is
doing right now. This immense, mysterious existence is expressing
itself everywhere at every moment. For the miracle to be expressed
through you, it will take courage and a firm dedication to truth
and authenticity. The greatness of the universe cannot be expressed
Be brave and true to yourself. Put your
heart into your work. Do these things with sincerity and you
come nearer to being what you truly are: A singular expression
of all existence a genius, a creator, a redeemer, a healer,
a teacher, a force for good in the world.
Trust yourself not your petty self,
but that Self you touch in blissful solitude on quiet walks in
the mountains, that Self you feel when you are at your highest
Completely accept your current situation
the place and time you live in. Accept it and make something
magnificent with it. There is no better time. There is nothing
to wish for. Genius and wisdom arise when you see that the source
of existence is in your heart and works through your hands.
You are not a victim of life. You have
a destiny, a part to play in this awesome universal battle between
good and evil.
Look at children. They trust their own
impression. They haven't learned to calculate how many people
oppose their purposes and so they don't alter their purposes
accordingly. If they conceive a purpose, they start to accomplish
it without any self-censoring calculations.
Infants do not conform. The adults conform
to the infant. An infant is charming, attractive, interesting,
and the adults gather around and try to please him or her. But
listen: There is something just as charming, just as interesting,
and just as pleasing about every stage of life, from childhood
to old age. Infancy has no monopoly on charm.
Take exactly what you are and find the
magnificence of it and express it. Do not weep for younger years
or think things will be great only when you get older. Be exactly
what you are right now and already your charm starts to manifest.
It is a healthy attitude to consider conciliatory
behavior beneath you. In other words, don't try to gain goodwill
by displaying pleasing behavior. Don't try to beg for peoples'
approval. That is the attitude of someone who doesn't feel he
has a right to be what he is, to feel the way he feels, to think
what he thinks. But you DO have the right.
Don't try to figure out what behavior or
opinion will make you popular with others. It is disrespectful
to the grandeur of who you really are. It is selling your soul
for the low outcome of manipulating the superficial affections
of others as if you needed their approval. Be what you
are. Be indifferent to the judgments of others, not with a thoughtless
or angry defiance, but with the firm knowledge that you are a
vital expression of something unspeakably intelligent and good.
Forget about what you have been before.
Forget what you've said before. Be what you are now, even if
it "isn't you" that is, even if it seems to
contradict what you or others have pigeonholed you to be. Be
free. Be the creative force on the crest of the mighty wave of
this very instant.
Be exactly what you are right now and what
will happen? Your truth, your honesty, your authenticity, will
scare some people, and they will actively try to make you stop
being true to yourself.
The world is in a conspiracy to make you
conform. Others will think they know what you should be and how
you should act and what you should think. And they will apply
pressure to you to make you conform to it. But if you conform,
you lose your soul. You lose your originality. You lose your
connection to the Mystery. You lose your creativity and your
The people who know you will sometimes
resist your creativity. They feel more comfortable with what
If you want to be the full greatness you
can be, you must give up the game and be your honest self. As
Emerson put it, "Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity
of your own mind." Rely on yourself and you become one of
those who determine the future of the world.
Not you? Why not you? Many of the people
who have changed the course of history also would not have believed
that they could or would. But when you rely on yourself and be
exactly what you are, a new force moves through you, and a new
source of power.
Emerson said, "No law can be sacred
to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very
readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what
is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it."
Take the stand that you are the one who knows, and all opposing
people and opinions are only temporary fads and "authority"
propped up by the mere agreement of mob mentality.
"Go upright and vital," urges
Emerson, "and speak the rude truth in all ways." When
you hear someone earnestly spouting the latest politically correct
opinion, why not be direct and without apology say, "I don't
want to hear a popular opinion. What do you really think and
why?" This response might be taken as somewhat rude, but
honesty is far more beautiful than the pretense of acceptance,
and it will do more good. Conditions do not improve when everyone
goes along just to avoid seeming rude.
Emerson wrote, "For nonconformity,
the world whips you with its displeasure
but the sour face
of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause
are put on and off as the wind blows and the newspaper directs."
Have the fortitude to treat this displeasure "as a trifle
of no concernment." The displeasure is really beneath your
The reason conformity is so damaging is
that it "scatters your force." It takes the pure, strong,
true expression you are and blurs it into feebleness and mediocrity.
But go about your business with a deep
honesty, and your power shines through, your genius arises, your
true goodness has a chance to show itself, and your creativity
is set on fire.
Do not join any crowd. Every club or group
tries to make each member a "retained attorney," locked
into one perspective, chained to a set of beliefs that blind
you to the truth. You can no longer just see. You are driven
to justify a certain point of view, to uphold a fixed perspective,
cutting away your freedom and cutting you off from a free expression
of the immense intelligence you really are.
As a painful example of the sensation of
being locked away from your own soul, consider the feeling you
get when talking to people you don't feel comfortable with, wearing
a forced smile, a painful smile, while you converse on topics
that don't interest you. It makes your face hurt. The discomfort
of it is a clear signal. In your dishonesty you have stuffed
a towel into the tube through which your life and creative force
flow, leaving you without power or comfort or peace or happiness.
Follow your deep whim. Do what you truly
want to do not your superficial, thoughtless impulses,
but when you are here, now, being as nakedly honest with yourself
as you can, speak and act from that unmasked honesty and authenticity
and your perceptions will strike a chord in the hearts of others,
for the center of their Self converges with the center of yours.
People do and say things much of the time
in the spirit of someone trying to make amends or to atone for
a sin. They take actions as if to justify or excuse themselves.
Their whole demeanor reeks of apology.
But I need no excuse. I'm not here to please
the world. I'm here to live. My life exists as an end in itself,
without needing justification. My life is for itself and not
for a show.
If my motivations are base, so be it. Better
that they are base and honest than lofty and phony.
My life should be unique and original.
It should not be like any other and no apology is needed for
that. Act from the center and your life is a saving grace, a
triumph, a work of art, a cavalry charging over the hill to win
You have the right to be what you are.
Never allow the well-meaning people to make you pay for that
privilege. You are what you are and you need no stamp of approval
or sponsor to grant you the authority to be so.
All that needs to concern you is your own
task, not what people think about it or you. This is difficult
and may be the only defining difference between those who are
great and those who are mediocre.
When you are alone, you can be yourself.
When among your fellows, you are bended by their desire for you
to be this or that. The ultimate attainment is to keep that solitary
independence when among others.
Trust yourself. Don't concern yourself
with what you have said or done in the past. Others have seen
it and expect you, even insist, that you act that way in the
Set yourself free. Learn and grow and extend
your understanding. Create yourself newly, freshly, honestly
When your soul is moved, yield to it, even
if it contradicts what you knew or thought in the past.
Do not try to be consistent. Trying to
be consistent blocks the new creation that is constantly attempting
to flow out of you. "Speak what you think today in words
as hard as cannonballs, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks
in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said
today." Yes, you will be misunderstood. All great souls
have suffered this indignity. You'll be in excellent company.
You will be a cause, a creator, an architect of a new world,
as all great souls have been who had the guts to see the world
with honest eyes.
Act and speak from that honest place and
when you look closely at what you've done, it may seem you spout
contradictory statements while you try to express the profound
paradox the truth encompasses. The course of a missile looks
like a zigzag up close because it is constantly correcting its
flight path. But when you look at it from a distance it flies
straight and true to its mark. In the very same way, you will
find that your honest expression will have a deeper, more intelligent
trajectory than you could have realized from so close a perspective.
Our puny conscious mind cannot see the
big picture. Our feeble efforts of willpower are completely outmatched
by the grandeur of the will of the universe, and to second-guess
it or to think you can edit it in-flight is the arrogance of
the ignorant. Give up your effort to censure yourself. Be an
honest, open expression and you will be surprised at the height
of your knowing in the long run.
Be great enough to be true now, with self-trust,
with self-reliance, with a self-sufficiency, independent of your
own pet theories or the scolding fingers of others. Trust yourself
and shine from the center and your genius will justify you in
The force of your independent character
is surrounded by, as it were, an escort of angels surrounded
by all the great souls of history who have defied the status
quo and acted from the source.
We respect and admire the brave heroes
of the past because they were true to themselves. And in the
end we will respect and honor those who do it now. Honor is not
superficial. It is eternal and that's what makes it great. It
does not try to please or appease, it does not try to win our
respect, and so ultimately wins it.
Cultivate a profound indifference to circumstances,
opinions, and authority. Do this and future generations will
bring your original work to its full fruition. The world will
The reading of history is the reading of
the biographies of a few strong people who took resolute action,
often against tremendous popular resistance resistance
to nonconformity, resistance to genuine, original thoughts and
Know your worth and keep your feet on the
ground. Do not sneak around, afraid, as if you had no right to
be what you are. Know your true worth and allow the source to
You see great works statues, buildings,
machines, books, and you feel belittled by them, put in your
place, puny, unworthy. But you're looking at it all wrong. Their
greatness awaits your judgment. Emerson wrote, "The
picture waits for my verdict; it is not to command me, but I
am to settled its claims to praise."
The state of humankind is like a king who
has forgotten his place and wanders the world like a beggar.
Don't make that mistake! Wake up, be what you are, express your
genius and your originality.
Do not envy or feel inferior when you read
of a great soul. So they were great. So what? Did they use up
greatness? No! Your own actions have as much potential to affect
the future if you would be exactly what you are fully
When you express your unique gifts, the
honor will be transferred to you just as readily.
Great souls have existed at all times since
the beginning. There are no fewer great souls now than ever have
been. In fact, the number is probably greater if the percentage
stayed the same. You will find a startling similarity between
all self-reliant souls of history, no matter what time and place
they lived. What they share is that the great souls leave behind
no classification into which others may fit. Anyone who is truly
in the same category will not seem similar, but will be wholly
We should look at the reverence we give
to presidents and statesmen and the supersuccessful and realize
it is the level of respect we should give to each other. These
great people were ordinary folks who decided to take matters
into their own hands, to fulfill their destinies sometimes
at great personal cost. Any one of us has a latent greatness
if we would only break free of conformity.
All original action has an undeniable magnetism.
Why? Think about it: The source of those original actions is
the center and source of all things. That center is what can
be trusted. That center is the source of genius, of moral strength,
of self-discipline, and the source of all life and all aliveness.
At the center of you is the center of all
things. That source of being and wisdom is not separate from
all other things but emanates and expresses itself alike in all
things. Yet we walk this earth feeling like an unconnected, isolated,
Here is the source of action and thought.
Here is the source of the highest form of inspiration. Emerson
wrote, "We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which
makes us organs of its activity and receivers of its truth."
When we recognize justice or truth or goodness,
we are not creating it. We are not putting it there, but merely
opening to a perception of something that already exists. We
allow ourselves (or not) to receive the recognition. We do not
make it so by our acknowledgment.
Decisions, opinions, conclusions
these are deliberate acts. But when you look at a flower, whether
or not you perceive its color is not up to you. Perception is
not under your voluntary control. The deliberate acts of our
minds can be disputed, but perception is final and undeniable.
If I perceive something and point it out
to someone else, they will perceive it also. And even if I am
the first human to ever notice it, I have opened the way for
future generations to notice it forevermore.
Although perceptions can be shared, what
is perceived is always new, always now. Relying on old philosophies
or dogmas misses the fact that all of the universe is being created
now, and you need rely on nobody else to tell you what is. You
can receive your knowing directly.
When a person recognizes the truth of something,
all former teachings crumble to dust and blow away. The source
is eternally now, and dissolves all past and future in its ever-emanating
If a person claims to know of divine matters
but uses ancient language from another country, do not believe
it. Why worship the past? The truth is here, now, as fully and
completely as it has ever been. You need no ancient description
of the color of the sky; you only need to look up. You can describe
it however you want to describe it. Memorizing former descriptions
misses the point entirely.
Do not be hesitant. Do not cower in shame
or fear. Don't quote some wise man of former ages. Say boldly
what you perceive now.
Let us hope we do not always think so highly
of ancient teachings and obsolete languages. We are like children
who memorize rules and ideas, struggling to remember the exact
words. Later, when they come to understand more about the world,
they can throw away those words and perceive the truths for themselves,
saying it just as well from their own present understanding,
in their own words. Let us do the same.
"If we live truly," wrote Emerson,
"we shall see truly." Live a deeply honest life, and
you will perceive what is. Then what old wisdoms need to be remembered?
When you live truly, your experience will be original and new.
Your experience will be a continual surprise and delight.
A deeply honest person does not remind
you of anyone else. A deeply honest person's experience will
be utterly unique and singular. You will not be following any
known path because you are making a path. You will have
no fear. You will have no hope. "Fear and hope are alike
beneath it." You will have a tranquillity and serenity as
you gaze upon the immensity of universal causation. All time,
all space, all distance, all things will be seen through as inconsequential.
A rigorous, unrelenting, bold honesty is the path to that ultimate
level of sight.
THE WORLD AS IT IS
To clearly see the need for this philosophy
of self-reliance, all you need to do is look at our modern world.
We are, by and large, timid and easily disheartened. The truth
scares us. Death scares us. The future scares us. And we are
afraid of each other.
What we want is for someone to rise up
and make things right, but what we see is that most people are
seriously lacking real personal power. They're passive. They
lack real purpose. They whine. They feel entitled to much more
than their contribution merits. They have no backbone, no guts,
Why? Because they've been beaten down by
the opinions of others. They've conformed. And in conforming,
they've lost their connection to their own selves. We have all
done it. We have tried to avoid the battlefield where truth fights
it out with the dark forces. We fear failure and we fear doing
something original. If a young person does well in high school
and doesn't go on to a good college, we fear for her future.
If a young businessman fails, we think he is ruined. This is
ridiculous. I am ruined or not, beaten or not, depending on what
I say to myself. If I boldly think strongly, I'll pick myself
up and go on. With this attitude, I can try and fail at many
things and come out all right. If I took the attitude of our
society to heart, I would give up at the first sign of failure,
climb into a bottle, and complain loudly for the rest of my life.
We are not victims, we are creators. Maybe
some great teacher will come along who will reveal to us our
own power. The teacher would tell us we must detach ourselves
from our reliance on the values and opinions of our culture.
We must become independent. We must become self-reliant. If we
would trust ourselves, we would find our powers multiplied. We
have come to put the world right, and should be embarrassed by
the sympathy of others. The moment you take genuine self-sourced
and original action, nobody will pity you. They will admire and
emulate you, now and in generations to come.
We need a revolution a self-reliance
revolution a new level of trust in the divinity within
each of us. Here are some areas where the revolution can be started
in your own life:
1. LIVE IN THE PRESENT
Time doesn't exist at the core of all things
as it emanates this instant. It is perfect at every moment
just what it is, complete, whole, and right now.
But we habitually ignore the present. We
regret the past or yearn for it; we strain our minds to perceive
the future; we dismiss the wonder of what is here now. There
is one elemental truth that you must understand now, and re-understand
every day: You can't be happy or strong until you live in the
present, beyond time.
The ever-present creation of all life is
always dynamic, always new. This eternal lifesource, when it
is flowing through you, will be shut down by retiring, by attainment,
by ending the quest and deciding you now have The Answer. It
is opened back up again by re-entering the ever-changing river
of existence. As Emerson put it, the soul becomes.
When you are present and becoming, you
are one with the river, and so your actions have power. But hold
still, and your power vanishes.
Ride that ever-flowing emanation with your
deep honesty, and you are more powerful than kings and countries.
People will appear to bend to you, to follow you, but they are
not following you they become the same sun as you are
and shine forth light with the same light. Honesty is reality.
Honesty is the creator, the ruler. Things are as real as they
Every honest action reveals a quality,
an excellence, and you can't help but respect and admire it.
From this point forward, let us restrain
our impulse to wander, to imitate, to envy. Let's look right
here and express what we feel needs to be expressed the way we
feel it ought to be expressed. We will "stun and astonish"
the less honest with our simple expression of truth. They don't
need to look any further than you: The divine pulse is right
here, shining out of you into their face and they will feel an
incomprehensible shock of recognition.
Next to the richness you are floating in,
everything else is shabby and petty. Dive into your ocean within
to swim in your indescribable wealth rather than trying to beg
a cup of water from someone else.
2. SOLITUDE: A KEY
The ocean within can only be reached through
solitude. The pressures, the desires, the opinions, the complaints,
of others even though we love each other only cloud
and obscure your vision. Solitude allows the dust to settle and
the air to clear. Then you can see truly. Then you can attain
the independence and strength and clarity that you will require
if you wish to retain your honesty while among people. Otherwise,
your human inclination is to acquire the notions and prejudices
of your friends and family.
Solitude will free your mind and ears and
soul from the constant, unimportant interruptions. Learn to distance
yourself from too much entanglement in the problems or goals
of others. Certainly shine light where it may help, but their
goals and problems are theirs, and yours are yours, and keeping
that distinction is the only way it can work.
Remember this: Getting caught in the web
of others can only be done with your consent. You give your consent
out of weakness.
But no more.
Your solitude and your deep honesty will
strengthen you and guide your attention vitally and healthfully.
3. RIGHT SPEECH
Another key in the quest of deep honesty
is to simply try to speak truly.
Up until now, you have sometimes expressed
agreement where you really disagreed, you have gone along with
what you knew was wrong, you have failed to correct mistaken
assumptions, you have restrained your honesty to save others'
feelings. You have shut yourself off from your own freedom and
power in order to keep them safe from a painful truth, or merely
to keep them liking you. You have taken the golden heart of the
universe and traded it for a "benefit" which it is
beneath you to desire.
Throw away your pretense and enter reality.
Say to the people you know: "I must be myself. I cannot
break myself any longer for you." No longer hide your likes
and dislikes. Trust that "what is deep is holy." Do
and say what truly and deeply delights you. Do and say what makes
you feel serene and content at the core of your being. As Emerson
put it, "I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever
inly rejoices me and the heart appoints." Not what superficially
titillates, but that which resonates with bliss at the deepest
and highest within you.
Emerson suggests you say to your friends
and family, "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."
This new way of being, this discipline
to speak the truth, will sometimes seem excessively harsh. But
if you follow the path of honesty, you will ultimately enter
the flow of the river you will ultimately live in reality
instead of the tangle of lying, misleading, and pretending that
passes for reality.
Yes, your honesty will cause pain. But
will you sell your freedom and power to save someone from an
unpleasant feeling? Especially when the feeling is an appropriate
response to reality?
In time, if the person will consent to
look, they will perceive the truth too, and thus may begin a
life of honesty.
To others it may seem as though you have
rejected all rules simply because you do not conform to the rules
of your culture. But the discipline of honesty has its own strict
code and profound principles, and if anyone thinks this is an
easy path, let him try to keep the regimen for one day, and he
will be set straight. Emerson wrote, "Truly it demands something
godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity
and has ventured to trust himself for a task-master. High be
his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he may in
good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a simple
purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to others."
When you pray for anything but the good
of all, you are out of touch. Praying for some special favor
is a demonstration of the lack of self-trust. That kind of prayer
arises out of a lack of knowledge about the unity of all things.
Prayer, if engaged in at all, should be a "contemplation
of the facts of life from the highest point of view." It
is the monologue of a grateful soul. It is the universe acknowledging
When you live as an open expression of
the mystery and grandeur of the universe, you will not beg for
private favors in your prayers. You will see all action as prayer.
Do not miss this point. Deep honesty will reveal the true way
to pray: Take action.
Another form of misguided prayer is regretting
the past. If there is some action you can take that will help
the situation, then take it. Regret comes from a lack of self-discipline.
And sympathy falls into the same category.
We sit down and pat the hands of those who bring trouble on themselves
instead of speaking the truth boldly "in rough electric
shocks" that might jar them out of their fog and self-created
illusions and put them in touch with their own powerful soul.
The secret of success is simply this: Take
pleasure in self-derived work. "Welcome evermore to gods
and men is the self-helping man." People love and admire
him because he does not need their love and admiration. We celebrate
his triumphs because he persevered when everyone was against
Not only are our prayers an expression
of a "disease of the will" but those principles we
live by are an expression of an equally pathetic "disease
of the intellect." For the most part, when I speak to someone,
I am alone because I am not likely to be speaking to a deeply
honest person. I'm not likely to meet the universe expressing
itself through him. No. He will be following some creed or other,
not of his own creation. He will be relying on the external rules
created by others rather than trusting himself. He will recite
"truths" he has borrowed from others. But each soul
is an entirely new classification. Not a new member of an already-existing
class. A new class. Each person is original or at least
should be! But people are, for the most part, followers.
They do not create or initiate genuine actions, but copy and
When an un-self-reliant person finds some
new philosophy, she will think it is the end-all, be-all, the
all-encompassing truth. It is natural to feel an enthusiasm for
new ideas, new systems at least for awhile because you
can feel the new philosophy has expanded your understanding and
the reach of your mind. A self-reliant soul, however, will outgrow
the system and go beyond it. The weak mind will stop seeking
and consider the new philosophy the only truth and will refuse
to understand how anyone else could see the light without the
particular teachings of this one master. But the light will shine
on any open mind. It makes no narrow discriminations. It only
requires honesty to open the door, and it will happily beam bright
and warm into the humblest shack.
If our follower would become honest and
self-reliant, the master's philosophy would crack at the edges
and fall away, allowing the light to shine directly on this newly-honest
Another area to start this revolution of
self-reliance is in the habit of traveling. It is ironic that
we will travel thousands of miles to see great architecture rather
than staying home and building our own great works something
the architects of these great foreign buildings obviously did.
Of course there is a place for travel,
but not as a way of finding anything. You take yourself
with you wherever you go, and if you are not at ease in your
own home, you will not be at ease anywhere else. If you hope
to find something greater than your own surroundings when you
go traveling, you will be sadly disappointed. Greatness is everywhere,
even where you are, if you would open your eyes and look. As
Emerson wrote, "Traveling is a fool's paradise." You
may travel to get away from yourself, but no matter how far you
go, when you wake up in this new place and look in the mirror,
there you are. You can't escape yourself.
The sixth area ripe for a self-reliant
revolution is the disease of imitation, which is a kind of traveling
of the intellect. We admire styles and ideas that seem foreign,
from another country or another time. But in each place and time,
great works were created then and there. The model was in the
mind of the artist and not anywhere or anywhen else.
Remember this: Beauty and magnificence
are as near to you as to anyone, and if you would decorate your
house and your mind with what fits your own disposition, your
own tastes, your own place and time, you will find it extraordinary
and wonderful, fitting and satisfying.
"Insist on yourself," wrote Emerson,
"never imitate." You can express your own talents every
moment, and those talents have been accumulating power and refinement
your entire life. But when you try to imitate or adopt the talents
of another, you have only a superficial "half-possession."
Whatever you can do best, nobody can teach
you but your own deep source and your own work and practice.
Where was the genius who could have taught Shakespeare? Who could
have taught Thoreau or Einstein or Edison? Every great soul is
unique and original. What makes Thoreau great is that very part
he could not borrow from anyone else. A new Thoreau could never
be made by the study of Thoreau.
Do the task that calls to you and you cannot
be too optimistic about the outcome. There is, right in this
moment, a great work inside you a work as awe-inspiring
as the Great Pyramid, the 5th symphony, or the Theory of Relativity,
but different from them all. The source of the universe is capable
of infinite expression, and if it has the use of a new mouthpiece
(from your newly-acquired deep honesty), it will not repeat itself.
Why would it? If you had an infinite number of different things
to say, why would you ever repeat yourself? Any true expression
through you will be wholly new and original.
And if you think you are not that great,
that you aren't capable of originality or greatness, think about
this: If you have the power to understand what another great
soul has expressed if you understand those great words,
if you grasp the beauty of a painting, if you recognize the genius
of a piece of music surely you also have the power to
answer in the same tone of voice as an equal. If you are up to
the level of understanding, you are on an equal plane, and can
reply in kind. You may not know how to paint or write music,
but you have a genius of expression with which you can reply.
You and I have greatness inside us waiting to get out. Open the
gate with deep honesty.
7. WHAT REALLY IMPROVES
The self-reliance revolution needs to revamp
our ideas about improvement. You cannot improve "society."
It changes, but the change is not improvement for everything
that becomes better, something becomes worse. We get new forms
of entertainment and they waste hours of our time, distancing
us from our loved ones, making us feel isolated and alone in
a world full of people. We get electricity and the lightbulb,
and it throws our carefully-evolved biological system, attuned
for eons to the earth's cycles of light and dark, out of balance.
We get new modes of transportation and lose some health from
our drop in exercise. We get labor-saving devices and then both
parents have to work to pay for them all.
HOW TO BE HAPPY
Circumstances are insignificant and relatively
inconsequential. We look to things, to property, to external
situations to make us happy, to make us good, to make us feel
satisfied or redeemed. These things cannot be gotten from circumstances
or ownership of anything.
We have a tendency to make the mistake
of measuring each other by what we have rather than by
what we have become. But property is superficial. When
you act from your center, you will probably acquire property,
but it doesn't matter because the important gain is not material
goods but a stronger character. You have become a more excellent
channel for the universal will.
Another form of external property is our
thirst for the agreement of others. We want large groups of people
to believe as we do, and we feel stronger every time a new convert
joins our group, whatever our group may be: vegetarian, democrat,
positive thinker, whatever. But the nature of wisdom and power
works in exactly the opposite way. You gain access to the universal
expression only by letting go of the opinions, customs, rules,
and systems of others and stand alone, original, self-reliant,
If you would release your fearful clinging
to the wisdom of others and throw yourself on your own wits,
you would instantly right yourself like a ship heeled over and
suddenly becoming upright again. Your balance returns. Your power
surges back up. Your weakness was caused by your lack of confidence
in your own wisdom.
Don't rely on luck, either. Trust in the
law of cause and effect. Do your work. Speak the truth. Live
your life with deep honesty, and you have made luck irrelevant.
The causes will produce their effects, luck or no luck.
And if some lucky good fortune comes your
way you win the lottery, your annoying neighbor moves
away, the value of your stock suddenly rises you may be
tempted to think luck is on your side. Don't believe it. External
circumstances have no lasting value. Deep honesty and only your
deep honesty can bring you true satisfaction and contentment.
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