At some point in our lives, most people come to the realization that envy is a worthless, foolish emotion. Living our lives in envy or imitation of someone else means that we have effectively given up our own life – Emerson calls this psychological suicide. For better or worse, one has only oneself. This is often thought of as a dreary realization, but what it actually tells us is that we are, each one of us, utterly unique. We each have the power, and the sole power, to sculpt our own life. “The power which resides in him is new in nature,” Emerson wrote, “and none but he knows what that is which he can do.” Nor does he himself know “until he has tried.”
When we forget this, when the influences of contemporary culture and education destroy the awareness of our individual uniqueness, we become “ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents,” and through a kind of spiritual cowardice we shrink from living up to our own deepest truths and aspirations. We feel strong and fulfilled when we really put our heart into something that is important to us and we do our best, but most of the time that is not how we live: instead, we belittle ourselves, and our lives become constricted, boring and empty.
Socrates said, “Know thyself.” Emerson added, “Trust thyself.” Accept what is best and highest within oneself and go forward to meet one’s destiny head-on, rather than fleeing from the difficulties of life.
But if we “trust ourselves”, what is it that is being trusted? What do these words actually mean? What is the nature of this ‘self’ on which our trust is supposed to rely?
It is an inner living ‘something’ that says “I Am”. It is the primary existential instinct that arises deep within our consciousness. We share this inner ‘something’ with all of life – it is the same source from which everything proceeds. “We first share the life by which things exist,” Emerson states, “and [only] afterwards see them as appearances in nature, and forget that we have shared their cause.” This shared living essence, he says, this elemental place within us that is One with all existence is the “fountain of action and of thought.” This is the source of human genius, the ground of spontaneous intuition, the root of inspiration. “In that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin.” It is this that we must learn to trust.
But it needs to be fully understood that this is not our ‘ego’, it is not our ‘personality’ or our ordinary sense of self. It is something much more.
This article is an excerpt from my upcoming new book, THE BEAUTY AND NOBILITY OF LIFE: The Restoration of Meaning in a World Overwhelmed by Commercialism, Scientism, and Fundamentalism. You can receive a Free Preview Copy of Chapter One (“What Went Wrong?”) when you join my mailing list.