The key to understanding self-reliance is understanding the meaning of ‘self.’
To understand the meaning of “self” is to have the key that unlocks the meaning of life.
I am self. You, too, are self. What, though, do such statements mean?
I am Being. You, too, are Being.
Consider the following from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay “Self-Reliance”:
“For the sense of being which in calm hours rises, we know not how, in the soul, is not diverse from things, from space, from light, from times, from man, but one with them and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed . . .”
Being is formless. If Emerson is right, then, all forms (objects, things) come from Being. If so, all forms come from the formless. They are Being; they are not just beings.
A self is a form. It too comes from Being. That is its meaning. To rely on self is to rely on Being. Self-reliance is reliance on Being.
(Buddhist thinkers sometimes distinguish little or small self [your everyday self] from big or large Self [Being].)
It’s misleading to think of any form in abstraction from Being. To single out a form correctly always involves falling through to Being. Singling out self-reliance correctly is not singling out self-reliance in isolation: it’s to single out self-reliance as an aspect of Being.
It’s the same for all other forms, too. Consider flowers:
“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. . . 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.”
Being is timeless. It has no past, no future, and even no present. It is beyond time or, if you prefer with Emerson, “above time.”
A rose is what it is. A rose is what it is tenselessly.
We, too, are what we are. We, too, are what we are tenselessly.
Such thoughts are mere signposts.
The idea is not to think Being but to realize Being. Unlike a being, Being cannot be thought or singled out, which is why it cannot be thought (conceptualized). It is not like a form, an item in a plurality.
Flowers have no trouble realizing Being. Nonhuman animals have no trouble realizing Being.
Only human animals have trouble realizing Being. We seem to be the only forms that get stuck in thought, in ceaseless thinking (conceptualizing). At least all literate humans, whether they understand their predicament or not, seem to end up trapped by thought.
The escape is simple: stop thinking without stopping awareness (consciousness, alertness).
Let go of remembering the past. Let go of foreseeing the future. Let go of imagining being elsewhere.
The escape is also difficult.
You will live well when you “live in the present” with full awareness of its riches.
There are moments when that happens naturally and spontaneously. Welcome such moments! Expand them. Let yourself relish being like a rose. As Emerson puts it:
“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.”
Trust yourself. Nothing bad will happen if you linger in the light, if you realize Being directly.
“What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? . . . when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams.”
Our little selves, these little forms, do not create truth (what-is). When we open in stillness to the light of the formless, we realize Being, which is our own nature.
This is true for all of us: “All men have my blood and I all men’s.” It is an experience not reserved for philosophers or sages.
It is an experience not reliant upon thinking or intellect: “The intellect is vagabond.”
You’ll know when it happens because it means the end of wanting and being dissatisfied: “Discontent is the want of self-reliance.” It is the end of wanting property, too, as well as for governments to protect property.
It is the beginning of peace.
No form can provide peace. Only Being can provide peace. This explains why you need to rely on nothing except your true self, which is Being.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please forward it.
Related post: “The Bifurcation of Reality“
Additional resources: the works of Eckhart Tolle; Alan Cohen & Alan Gordon’s Are You as Happy as Your Dog?