(a modern interpretation of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on self-reliance. https://www.rwe.org/ii-self-reliance/)
It is in the expression of our most authentic selves, our truest voices that genius dwells. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Shakespeare, Hamilton, and Plato continue to live on in our memories because they honored themselves. Each stood for and expressed the voice within them and, in so doing, portrayed an aspect of humanity that we, as a global collective, continue to admire. Every time that, instead, we reject the inspiration of our internal landscape and rely upon the wisdom of another, we keep from the world the unique perspective we have to offer and sentence ourselves to suffering when, at some later point in time, we hear a semblance of that perspective we chose not to voice in someone else’s words.
This leads us into a cycle of self-abuse. When we do not explore ourselves, do not express our strengths, do not share our perspectives, we short change ourselves and each other. To experience the applause for an expression that, at some time before, our instinct had offered us and we had declined to pursue, creates a feeling of unworthiness. And, spending time in such self-degradation encourages us to repeat the action of withholding in the future because we buy into the idea that we have proven ourselves unworthy. We must stand firm within ourselves and break free, into a new habit of perpetual self-expression. This is how we find change, how we understand our own worth, how we begin to feel valuable and to perceive, through that new filter, the infinite value ever and always surrounding and in us.
To find the illumination within us, as individuals and as communities of all sizes, we must express our own voices as did the greats before us. Gandhi stood in starvation against the injustices he saw, and all of the people we collectively admire have done something similar. Each exposed themselves in full expression of the Truth they held within. If we are to truly live as adults within a society of our own making, we must claim our space as well and to the same degree. The world deserves our perspectives, and we deserve the relief of having expressed them instead of carrying our truths alone or, worse, not being aware of them at all.
Children illustrate for us the truth of this. Their logic is not yet developed enough to wall them within a world of self-doubt and interfere with their self-expression. We, as adults, bend around them, attempting to guide them, keep them safe, and convince them that our perspective is the one they should adopt. Yet, until they agree to accept our ways, their voices cry out in a beauty we applaud. And when, like Greta Thunberg, Children are able to retain their own viewpoint, to continue voicing their truths, we applaud them as they enter adulthood and weigh them down with an expectation to guide us in ways we were unable to guide them.
Standing on our own two feet, in our own truth, expressing our singular, and thereby innately valuable, perspective is the beauty of actualized adulthood that, in reality, is the human nature available to all of us. Instead, with self-judgement, we too often get in our own way, overwhelmed with worries about the potential consequences of our actions. Those who instead trust most in themselves and continue to express their opinions and feelings stand as the valuable pillars that define our forward momentum.
Society stands against us in this. The nature of holding a common culture is a resulting disdain for those who fall outside of its norms. Alone, it is easy to listen to ourselves, to honor our innate inner wisdom. Or, at least, easier. In public we must shrug off the weight of our cultural expectations and stand in the strength of our convictions, though they might incite ridicule or rejection.
If we are to be adults, we must risk everything to honor ourselves. Our personal relationships, our local and larger communities, every commonly held covenant must be secondary to our internal understanding of truth. What is right for me, what I perceive as good and beautiful, is not necessarily so for you. And if I ignore my own self-exploration and instead accept only the knowledge others give to me, there is no way for me to know myself, and instead there is every cause to disdain my own inner workings. This unhappy existence perpetuates an unhappy society in which we all must suffer.
The good we do for the world, instead of for ourselves, is like an apology in action. When we do good because society has told us to, instead of because we are inspired to, we act as machines programmed to follow instructions and suppress an aspect of ourselves. What a high price to pay. Any self-suppression catalyzes an increase in self-judgement and results in a fear that holds us back even more. Society can not advance this way. We must first know ourselves, our wants, our individuated moralities before we can hope to improve the world beyond our doors. I must own the beauty of me before I can truly appreciate beauty existent in any other form. The great minds and hearts that we continue to idolize honored first their inner wisdom and then shared it with us that we too might recognize the wisdom within ourselves.
When we simply imitate others, we dilute our impact. We provide to the world, at best, the clarity of a slightly blurred photocopy instead of an original. In so doing, we hide ourselves and become the representative of another instead of the fully expressed person we hold the potential to be. We’ve already been exposed to the thoughts of our ancestors. I am more interested in interacting with your perspective, one that is new to me and that, thereby, offers me the opportunity to grow.
We must stand together alone, in a quarantine of our own Truth. When we attach our own value to another person’s understanding of us, we risk swaying in the wind of their approval or disapproval. And we must feel the loss of isolation if they decide we are no longer worth their intention at all. Self-worth must come from within based on a clear understanding of the people we are. My value is defined by my understanding of myself. Yours must be defined likewise. Otherwise we create the potential to find ourselves helpless when another is not there to define us.
This can be most difficult with the people we are close to. The person I am today is different than the person I was yesterday. We must be free to change our minds, to grow, and to evolve into that which feels most authentic to us in the moments we are in. The memories of the people we love can feel like weights built out of good intentions. They claim to understand us, who we are in this moment, because they have observed us in many moments that came before. If we agree this is so, we create the opportunity for our growth to stop, to cease where it is. We are limited by each other’s definitions. We can only truly define ourselves and our perceptions of our experiences. And that definition needs room to flex and change in order for us to stand in the truth of living the life that is Happiness, Joy, and Love for us. My understanding of these things will never look quite like yours, and so our lives will reflect the difference of our understandings when we are both completely fulfilled.
By embodying our Truth of each archetype we pursue, by living our lives in the ways that feel most right to us, we become the change we want to see in the world. We share our perspective by simply breathing. As people, we see each other’s differences and, so long as we do not lose ourselves in judgement, we always find worth and a further passage into understanding ourselves. The historical figures that we so admire stood firmly in their own truths and were often misunderstood and said to be “ahead of their time.” Now, those same voices are often said to represent their time. Each of those people stood in themselves, in their personal Truth and created a new way. There is no cause for us to insult their strength by quoting their words instead of sharing our own. The more we clarify ourselves and stand within our own strengths, our own Truth, the more we will be understood by the world around us.
Stand for what you believe in. When we show up authentically ourselves we hold more potential to create an impact. Be kind, and always yourself, even when the truths are hard. Though it is not always welcome in conversation, I feel strongly that we can best care for each other by staying apart and wearing masks during our current pandemic. I feel also that we must speak up for equality and justice, that all of us are worthy of loving and joyful lives regardless of our skin colors or professions. These are reflections from my truth, I accept that others hold different perspectives. And I see infinite value in the moments when every member of a conversation is able to truly embody themselves and show up for the discussion. These kind discussions, oh so different from debates in their inherent gentleness, are the space where new habits are created. These are the spaces where we are best able to learn. And these are the spaces that every space can become if we refuse to keep in line with trends and instead honor the great minds we so respect by viewing them as a starting point rather than the culmination of all possible great accomplishments.
We have allowed our leaders to define us. Royals, elected officials, popular community members, our global culture encourages us to walk in their shadows, to accept and live by their viewpoints. But we know that cultural changes occur when we refuse to be guided by the morality or wants of others and, instead, listen to ourselves. The way to achieve the change we want to see in the world is to live it, to provide an example of it. Our individual perspectives of what the ideal world we could live in looks like all hold something valuable. Our inner wisdom speaks to us through our intuition. As we practice listening to it, instead of to the external world surrounding us, our lives are filled with increasing joy and, inherently, that joy spreads to others. My innermost Truth is that I can best support the world in achieving wholeness by uncovering the beauty of my own wholeness for the world to see. As we reflect in conversation, as we engage on social media, as we browse the aisles in the supermarket, we show each other how we are living, we share our emotional states (through movement or tonalities), we change each others minds. We do not have to try to make the difference we want to see, in fact, that is often counterproductive. We simply have to live our Truth, our Beauty, our portrayal of all aspects of life and personality, and in so doing, we affect the world.
Why should precedent so firmly hold our habits and courts in sway? Adams, Hamilton, and Lincoln would be aghast that we cleave so tightly to the words they offered us. Holding onto them demands that we should slide backward or stay still instead of following forward into developing a country that truly can offer “liberty and justice for all.” If we are to truly honor the words of our forefathers, we need to listen to their hope that we would continue to improve, continue to walk down the road away from tyranny that they placed the first foot upon. Why should we expect to be happy in the same society our forefathers craved when we are so seldom happy living a life that exactly replicates that of our parents?
It is in our hearts and minds that hope for a bright future that serves and protects all of us exists. And the more of us who can stand firmly in our truths, actualizing our authentic selves, voicing the path to change we know and see is possible, the more quickly we will be able to achieve it. In becoming ourselves we unveil the ability to inspire others. And the practice of getting there is what we can share. It is what I share with my clients, my practice in becoming ever more myself.
Our attachments hold the power to pull us from this laser-sharp, forward focus. If I involve myself always with the needs of my friends, when do I spend time with myself? When do I discover my needs? We can not know our own Truth, can not really be present with it when we give more attention to our attachments than to ourselves. As Buddhism teaches us, our attachments create our suffering. We must “put on our own oxygen masks first.” If we do not take care of ourselves, any attachment is likely to overwhelm us with its importance. Everything that we are committed to focusing on holds the potential to weigh us down carrying someone else’s concerns instead of our own. We must be self-interested before we can be magnanimous or heroic. We have to know who we are, what our Truth is, before we can be fully aware of who we want to help and what we have to help them with.
We must take ownership of ourselves. Society offers us guidelines and laws that it demands us obey. Yet if we simply do so, and follow rules that are not in keeping with ourselves, then there is no room for society to change its structure. Doesn’t everything benefit from growth? We must follow instead our own inner guidance. My heart speaks to me of a kindness and willfulness that society does not command of me, and yet they are my guiding principles. This is how we can satisfy ourselves, the only way. We must choose what life we want to live, how we want to live it, and our own interpretation of good and bad. We will be defined by the products of our beliefs, and for this definition to be in keeping with us, we must find our Truth.
Growth toward this discovery of ourselves will inherently result in failures. We are paving new steps forward along an unpaved thoroughfare. Each lack in us, or in our circumstance, will teach us how to pave the next step in a faster and more thorough way. Rather than rejecting our failures or our opportunities to fail, we must embrace them as tools for self-discovery. If our intuition prompts us in a direction that leaves us lost, being lost must offer us the wisdom we needed to learn.
When we actualize our authentic selves and stand firmly in our inner wisdom, everything becomes full of wisdom for reflection. The incredible clouds, the birds organizing their territories, people protesting in the street, a child learning to ride their bike, and each blade of grass offer us their Truth. All of it is perspective containing wisdom that is on offer to us to the extent that we know ourselves.
We must embody our present moment. Our attachments to ourselves as we were or might be are as dangerous to inflicting suffering upon us as any of our other attachments. If we regret our past circumstances or worry about our future ones, we see them less for what they are. Through this blurry filter, we can not learn as well the lessons they offer to us and we are pulled from our present moment and into an approximation of what we once were or might someday be. Now is the moment where our Truth resides. While we can learn from examples of the past and the possibilities of the future, if it removes us from our present moment with all of its emotions, thoughts, and experiences, we can’t know who we are. And if we return to ourselves after such a distraction, we must discover ourselves all over again having lost track of our growth in favor of another moment’s story.
Our wisdom is within, not without. Within this moment, the amount of presence I can invite into this paper denotes the clarity with which you will read it later. The more I embody myself, the more I am able to interact with the world, to contribute to it rather than just floating along for the ride. My external circumstance does not define my perspective, unless I allow it to. My perspective is mine to awaken, utilize, and grow as I see fit. I investigate the habits that I discover within it, as I discover them and decide what is mine and what I have taken on that actually is not true for me. If I begin to attach my preferences to the approval provided to me by another, then I detract from myself and risk the lessening of the approval that I had gained as myself in Truth. We can never fully embody the truth of another. Any attachment to their interpretation of us, or anything else, detracts from our own incredibly valuable Truth.
We have moved out of monarchies and into democracies, we have industrialized our world, and we have embraced Newton’s mechanics. So too, our society as a whole has stepped away from living within the natural world that so reflects the human nature that we are. We have held onto Newton’s habit so tightly that we have yet to find a place for Quantum Physics’ expansion of it within our hug. We have practiced choosing mechanistic improvements over self-improvement for centuries. Now, I believe it is time to choose differently. It is time for each of us to choose ourselves, to find our utmost Truths, that we may all offer new role models to each other by simply living as ourselves. This is what will move our society forward into living in recognition of the beauty we already are.