Self Reliance

त्यो एकलाई जान, जसलाई जानेपछि जान्न बाँकी केही रहँदैन । – शिवसुत्र Know the one, after which there will be nothing remaining to be known - Shivasutra

I’ve been reading “Self Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and this is just an archive of the quotes and parts-of-text that touched me the most. In some cases I have also added the reasoning or the idea that is being sent across by the text or just notest that made sense to accompany them. I am still reading the whole essay and will at one point write my thoughts and views on it (maybe).

The essay mostly talks about why its important to know thyself; why knowing yourself and accepting your thoughts might be tough. The following part of the text talks about the times when one was not courageous enough to speak their heart or do what they heeded to do, and later realized that someone else said/did it and got all the glory (though some parts of the text also deals with why getting the glory, or working to get the glory is not important at all)

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

.. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

This part of the essay deals with one having to do something that they don’t like, but are doing it just because it made sense at one point of time and they don’t want to contradict themselves. It somehow goes into the lines of cognitive dissonance where one has the mental stress or discomfort because of contradictory beliefs in their mind and are motivated to reduce this dissonance (Based on the definition from wikipedia)

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.

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.

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.

The following paragraph tries to talk about the moment, and how one should live in the present and not sulk in the past or worry about the future. It is somehow way more philosophical compared to the rest of the text till this part. Similar ideas have been mentioned in Buddhist texts that talk about mindfulness and being available for the moment rathar than being in a different point of time.

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.

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.

On failure, and pressures from the society and believing in yourself.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him, and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history.

To the end of the essay, the author talks about the superstition of Travelling. To begin with, I had a totally different view on travelling, like the “how it changes you” and “you discover yourself” view that the world has, but since the last 45 months, I have come to realise that travelling is just a concept that has come from romantic consumerism. Author Yuval Noah Harari briefly talks about it in his book Spaiens as well. Nevertheless, this is a different view on the same thing and was quite interesting to read, since it is dated from the 19th century.

Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

To wrap things up, A quote from the book Khushi by Vijay Kumar (खुसी - विजय कुमार ) is very apt to this topic:

अाफूलाई अाफैँ परिभाषित गरिनँ भने अरुले मलाई तिनकै स्वादअनुसार परिकार बनाएर खानेछन् । – लोर्डे > If I don’t define myself others will make a dish of me based on their taste and eat. (direct translation, gives a feeling of what the quote meant)

PS: still reading and will be adding stuff