Self-inquiry is a subtle art, especially amid the "noise and haste," but Max Ehrman encourages people to "remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible surrender , be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others...they too have their story."
No doubt Emerson, living amid the drastic change brought on during Industrialization agreed. He too sought to find his story and speak his truth clearly. He urged people to trust themselves and the "iron string" that resonated within them. He encouraged conviction and fearless questions that would prevent the foolish consistency that would lead to "little minds." Instead, he urged people to "speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again though it contradict everything you said today. 'Ah so you shall be sure to be misunderstood--Is it so bad then to be misunderstood?'....To be great is to be misunderstood."
Emerson, a philosopher, philanthropist, spiritualist, and naturalist is one of the greatest Transcendentalist writers. This group of people believed in the inherent goodness of people as they observed nature, they saw the purity of our True Natures. They believed in freedom, independence and thinking. They formed Day at the Lyceum and encouraged community to form based on questions regarding conscience, beliefs and the experience of transcendence from their connection to Nature and their Divine Soul.
This group has reached through the pages of books and been some of my greatest teachers. It is also this group I was most passionate about sharing with my students. As of late I have returned to them and with a sober mind begun to engage my mind in observing my feelings and experiences.
Does one need to reject a path in order to embrace another? No. In order to embrace the totality of our life we must be willing to question occurrences and observation. It is a process of evaluating what is true for you. It is the critical thinking process and deeper mind known by some as Socratic thinking.
If we are lucky we have dialogue with others without emotionality. We ask questions about questions, examine assumptions, observe implications and the affects of belief systems on society and ourselves. We are able to view ourselves and our lives from an alternate viewpoint and look into the nature of things. It asks about the meaning of things and is a means of remaining open minded. Free.
Moving from place to place, I have found only one constant companion, my journal and my pen. Through writing and conscious journaling I have found a reflection as I move from one life to another or integrate and branch out from various ideals and beliefs. It keeps me growing and makes it easy to observe mental loops, recycled thoughts, and jargon that is particular to one set or group of people. It is this process of self-inquiry that asks me to expand and grow in understanding.
It has been my intention to not become myopic, to ever retain the freedom in my mind, observing even my own seeds planted, intentions, watching how the consciousness blooms and observing the effect it has on my life and on those I love. It is impossible to please all people, but at least I make sure I am more than one aspect of myself., and it is this desire for wholeness and union with the totality of my experience that has fueled my passion for writing. It helps me observe, be the observer and change my direction.
As Walt Whitman put it:
"The past and present wilt-I have fill'd
them, emptied them. And
proceed to fill my next
fold of the future...
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
What I love most about the Transcendentalists is that they were not only individualists, they were committed to wholeness and justice, meaning that they sought ways to use their power to make the experience of life equal for all. Thoreau was one of such people and went through his own transformation. He moved from Civil Disobedience to the isolation of Walden--withdrawing form society--and then finally re-entering society. His main platform simplicity and non-government, but only when the people were ready.
When will they be ready?
Ghandi and Marin Luther King quoted Thoreau and expanded on his views stating that people would be ready when they became non-violent and resisted injustice, or inequality. How?
The Transcendentalists resisted through reform. First reform of themselves, then meeting together in community to ask heartfelt question that resulted in massive shifts of consciousness. The result led to women's suffrage, equality, child labor laws, and contributed to the abolishment of slavery.
They also resisted through the way they lived their lives free, a freedom they sought in their minds. As Thoreau put it, they were no only willing to question what they saw, but were willing to see--not only reality but within the reality they perceived a way to dream--to transcend--to go beyond limitations and expand concepts--divisions--differences and, as a group, become unlimited in what they could accomplish. Within the established system they gathered together asked questions and surpassed the limitations of their minds by expanding their viewpoints. They did this with the purpose of helping the people who needed it the most: women, the weak, the children.
In other words--they put their freedom to work not only evaluating their own minds bu the lives of those around them. How could it be better? This is the process of human evolution.
Thoreau writing that through conscious endeaver it is possible to elevate ones own life and then having the willingness to ask really important questions could elevate the lives of other. The questions were followed by application of experiential knowledge we call wisdom and courage was then used in building a life around the answer.
In this exists Emerson's greatness in Self-Reliance, Whitman's Song of Myself and Thoreau living deliberately fronting the facts of life to "see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to...practise resignation...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,...and if it proved to be mean,...get the whole and genuine meanness of it...; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account" of life, of himself, of the world that he both retreated from and ultimately a world to which he returned.
When he left the woods, Thoreau wrote, "I left the woods for as a good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I have several more lives to live."
With this idea of the lives we live, the experiences that shape us and the self-inquiry that takes us there, we return to Max Ehrman finding true peace in a time when life moves so fast. He comforts his reader with the admonishment that beyond "a wholesome disipline, be gentle with yourself." He then continues:
"You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you may conceive him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all it's sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."