BE YOU

The Art of Self Reliance

BE YOU

The Art of Self Reliance

Within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

by Zeke DeGraw

author image

by Zeke DeGraw

author image

Within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

WHAT IS SELF – RELIANCE?

The idea of self-reliance poses an interesting problem to the human mind. What we admire about great minds like Shakespeare, Plato, and Milton is that they spoke their truth – not of what was true of their own time, but what was true to themselves. They had the courage to follow their own thoughts and their own convictions. To trust in our own intuition, that spontaneous insight which flashes across each of our minds – that is genius. Yet all too often we dismiss these thoughts, these sparks of intuition, simply because they are our own. Instead of owning up to our own brilliance we give it away. In every work of genius, we find our own discarded thoughts. Our unwillingness to accept our own extraordinariness means we must take in from another what we have known and felt the whole time.

THE BIRTH OF TRANSCENDENTALISM

American writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, were the central figures behind the transcendentalist movement of the 1830’s. Transcendentalism was an idealistic philosophy developed to highlight the power of the individual. Emerson and Thoreau expanded on the system of thought developed by Immanuel Kant, who believed that to understand the nature of reality one must first examine the reasoning process which governs the nature of experience. One of the key beliefs of transcendentalism is that there is a divinity which pervades all nature and all humanity. There is a fundamental belief in the inherent goodness which exists in all people. They believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly self-reliant and independent. 

THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE CROWD

The great fear of not belonging creates distrust in our ability to be who we truly are. We create a public persona that is predictable and acceptable. The eyes of the crowd have no means of gauging our personality other than from our past actions. We are terrified to disappoint others. The deep longing to belong comes with sacrifice. We carry along our beliefs about how others expect us to be and construct a narrative of who we are around this belief. This corpse of past action allows us to be recognized in the eyes of the public.

To the self-reliant individual, the eyes of the crowd are of no significance.

Speak what you believe now. Tomorrow, speak what you believe then. You are sure to contradict yourself and you are sure to be misunderstood.

Is it so bad…to be misunderstood?

Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that has ever been. To be great is to be misunderstood. Greatness has no need to explain itself in the present. Its loyalty is to the future. Its journey is one of zigs and zags, moves and countermoves, actions and contradictions. Our apparently contradictory acts or decisions can only truly be examined at the end, when the entire corpus of our life’s work can be taken in at once.

To exhibit originality is to tap into our childlike nature. Children are the perfect model of self-reliant behavior because they are too young to be hesitant and fearful. They are possessed by a need for self-discovery. They apply their own standards to the world and have no care for how their actions are interpreted by those around them. This stands in sharp contrast with the attitude of cautious adults, who, because they are overly concerned with reputation, approval, and the opinion of others, have great difficulty acting genuinely or spontaneously. The worst thing one can be in the crowd is inconsistent. But it is in consistency that we find the death of individuality. Our culture gives us identity, but at the same time, it views our societal role as the totality of who we are. It protects, molds, constrains, and limits us all at the same time.

THE SNAKE IN THE GARDEN

Siddhartha Gautama was a prince born to a royal family, and early in his life it was predicted that he would become either a great king, or spiritual leader. Wishing for a powerful ruler, his parents tried to protect him, to prevent him from seeing the dark nature of the world. He was kept within the garden of the palace, surrounded by every earthly pleasure one could imagine. Despite this blissful existence his curiosity drove him to venture outside the palace walls. On Gautama’s first trip outside the palace, his father commands the old, the sick, and the dying to disappear so his son wouldn’t see them.

Unknowingly, his father appointed an emissary of the gods to be Siddhartha’s guide. The gods had very different plans for the young prince. As Siddhartha was being wheeled through the kingdom, the gods sent an ancient man to hobble alongside the road. Compelled by curiosity he asks the emissary, “What is that creature, stumbling, shabby, bent and broken, beside my retinue?”

The attendant answered, “That is a man like other men. He was born an infant, became a child, a youth, a husband, a father, a father of father’s. He has become old, subject to the destruction of his beauty, his will, and the possibilities of life.”

“Like other men?” The prince asked. “That means this will happen to me?”

And the attendant answered, “Inevitably, with the passage of time.”

It was at this point that the world collapsed in upon Gautama, and he asked to be returned to the safety of his home. But his curiosity could not be held down for long. He took more journeys from the safety of the palace, encountering a sick man, then a dead man, and he knew that these things would happen to him. It was not until he understood all the suffering of the world that he finally attained enlightenment as The Buddha.

In this story of the  Buddha we can see many similarities to the story of the Garden of Eden. God placed Adam and Eve within a walled enclosure where they were naked and not ashamed. As in the story of the Buddha, they had all the earthy pleasures one could ask for, and still, curiosity got the better of them. The serpent tempts Eve to eat of the fruit of knowledge, telling her she will be like god, knowing good and evil. She and Adam ate of the fruit and their eyes were opened, they became aware of their nakedness, aware of their human vulnerability. Like the Buddha, through a willful act of defiance, their eyes were opened to the pain and sufferings of the world.

Once you have gained knowledge of the suffering of the world there is no going back to your previous, unconscious, blissful state of unawareness. It is inevitable, and yet, painful. It’s no wonder that all around the world we develop myths of a golden age, with a subsequent fall from paradise, and a loss of our childlike innocence. There is no safe space we can create that the chaos of the natural world cannot penetrate. No matter how much your father, your mother, your friends, or your culture may try, they can never truly insulate you from reality. There is always a serpent in the garden. We can look at it as an evil, or as an opportunity to venture boldly into the unknown, to engage in the process of self-discovery.

It is a path that must be walked alone, but it requires only one thing – to trust in yourself – like all the great minds of history have done. In doing so you will find that childlike genius waiting to be discovered.

CONNECT WITH DEVATA

Zeke DeGraw runs a YouTube channel called ThinkBigAnimation where he has been creating videos on topics ranging from motivation, psychology, philosophy, mythology , and symbolism. After reaching over a million views and 13,000 subscribers, Zeke still feels like he has barely scratched the surface of topics he wants to share about. Check out Zeke’s channel and reach out to let him know what you think!

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