Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Emerson Before Dawn, or: Be Straight, Be Full, Be Ready

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I often read a page or two of Emerson before greeting the sun. For me, he is the wisest of American philosophers and the most practical, because his words create a stir in the spirit that is a wonderful incitement to action. He is the perennial enemy of hand-me-down systems of belief and self-limiting notions about what is possible in a life. When we are wandering lost in a fog of confusion in the low marshlands of group-think, he pipes the tune and shines the light that will get us back to the upward slopes of our life purpose.
The other day, leading a five-day adventure in Active Dreaming at the Omega Institute, I guided a group of brave and ready souls on a journey to a real place in the Imaginal Realm that I call the House of Time. It is the kind of locale that creators, shamans and mystics have always wanted to visit, a place where we may encounter an inner teacher who is the master of any field that compels our best attention and study, and where any book of secrets – even that Book of Life containing our sacred contract – may be accessible.
While drumming for the group to provide fuel and focus for the journey to the Library in the House of Time, I found myself in contact with intelligences who have guided and inspired my work in the past. It seemed that Emerson, in high collar and frock coat, had joined the group. I do not say this was the individual spirit of the great sage; I do not claim the privilege of a personal interview, and I am sure that wherever Emerson may now be, he has many things to do. I say only that for a few moments I seemed to be in the presence of a figure who embodied some essence of Emerson’s thought. I was eager to receive insights I could easily retain, while my consciousness was working on several levels, including that of drumming for the members of the group and watching over their own adventures.
My Emerson gave me three words: Rectitude. Plenitude. Attitude. Just now, in the twilight before dawn, as the first pink suffused the gray sky, I tracked these clues through Emerson’s essays and letters, and through the pedigrees of the terms themselves.
In its origin, rectitude is the virtue of being straight, or upright, in your conduct and condition. It derives from the Latin rectus or straight. It has nothing to do with a narrow moralism. As Emerson wields this word, it is the property and armor of the brave soul who dares to live by his own lights. In his famous 1838 address to Harvard Divinity School – a speech the faculty tried to suppress but the senior class insisted upon – Emerson defined “the grand strokes of rectitude” as “a bold benevolence”, and that independence of mind that enables us to ignore the counsel and caution of our friends when they seek to hold us back from pursuing our calling, and the readiness to follow that calling without concern for praise or profit. Those who can do this are “the Imperial Guard of Virtue” and “the heart and soul of nature.” They “rise refreshed on hearing a threat”; they come to a crisis “graceful and beloved as a bride”; they can say like Napoleon at Massena that they were not themselves until the battle began to go against them.
Plenitude is fullness or abundance, coming from the Latin plenus, or “full”. For Emerson, plenitude – abundance – is our natural condition, and we miss it only by failing to live from the fullness and integrity of our own spirit. When we develop self-trust, we gain “the plenitude of its energy and power to repair harms,” he instructs in his essay on Heroism. “There is no limit to the Resources of Man,” he adds in a letter on that theme. “The one fact that shines through all this plenitude of powers is…that the world belongs to the energetic, belongs to the wise.”
Attitude has an even more suggestive etymology. It first came into usage to describe the posture an actor playing a role strikes on the stage. Go further back, and we find it is kissing cousins with the word “aptitude” and both share a common root in the Latin aptus which means “fit” or “suited” – in short, ready for something. Our attitudes indeed determine what experiences we are apt to encounter on our roads of life. “The healthy attitude of human nature,” Emerson instructs us in his essay on Self-Reliance, is “the nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner” – in other words, the confidence that since we are at home in the universe, the universe will support us. In the face of hardship and challenge, we need to strike that posture of determination that “by [that] very attitude and…tone of voice, puts a stop to defeat,” Emerson adds in his letter on Resources.
We are now entering one of the great open secrets of life. “We are magnets in an iron globe,” as Emerson told the young men at Harvard. “We have keys to all doors….The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”  We choose which doors will open or remain closed. We decide what we will attract or repel in life according to whether or not we are straight, and full, and ready.
  • Skip

    Thanks for sharing morning meditational munchies ~
    By way of return,
    When I think of “rectitude”, the phrase “behavioral (whether internal or external) fidelity to spiritual objectives” comes to mind; alternatively, “behavioral vectors that are nearly of the same direction as spiritual vectors”.
    Plenitude brings up the essential idea, for me, of “the ideal operating range” of a power. What I mean by that is that there is an ideal range of the possession of a power, whether that power is a pile of stuff at one’s disposal, as like a cornucopia filled not just with apples and wheat sprigs, but also ironing boards and radios and pizzas and possible lovers etc; or money itself; or intellegence, or political power or castenedain power. All are the same in this way: One needs a certain amount, just to survive. If one has a little more than that,there is a little breathing room; A little more than that and one can actually improve one’s condition; A little more than that and one can get by quite comfortably; A little more than that and one can get extravagant, or be generous, and easily reckless; but much more than that and it can get dangerous: on e has to learn to consciously actively manage that power, or it will manage you.
    Attitude… ah… I can see attitude as being summed up as : The mudra of one’s consciousness as it considers the product of it’s experience.

  • Robert Moss

    Skip – Thanks for your reflections. I think your take on “rectitude” is close to Emerson’s mark. I’m startled by your description of attitude as a mudra of consciousness (being startled is good; it helps to expand our understanding). I can go with the rhythm of this thought when we are speaking of attitude as conscious aptitude. Of course, many of us are unconscious of the attitudes (in the lesser sense) that we strike, and the effects they have.This discussion puts a spin on the oft-said complaint, “You have an attitude.”

  • Meredith

    I’ve been opening “Nature and Selected Essays’ at random for a few years now, and have been carrying it around and opening it up more this past week.
    Thank you Emerson,
    you rock.

  • Skip

    One of my faults is that when I see such meditations as the above, to join right in as though it were my own and move with it. To others this often seems like I am trying to co-opt or dominate, but that is not the intention at all, or if it is I am unconscious of it. For “me” personally, it’s like coming to an oasis in the desert, and I move before I consider. I hope I didn’t offend.
    Thoughts thunk while sleeping last night:
    “Mudra” was the most abstract word I could think of when I wrote…. I wanted to keep it as broad as possible.
    “Kata” was another term that came to mind, but the idea is advanced beyond my comprehension at this point and I am still working with the very basics. For instance,the memory comes up of a martial arts exercise: Two students stand facing each other and place a yard long wooden dowel between them, and place it belly to belly…. they have to stay close enough to each other so that the dowel does not fall. They then move around the training room, following, leading, approaching, receding, circling as do opponents stalking each other….. the idea is to train to automatically keep an exact instance from the opponent. It’s a great model for consciousness keeping its “experience products” at arm’s length, rather than being drawn in by them, overcome by them, and sucked into a semi-conscious hypnoid state. Just even this basic consciousness style is something I am still learning…. trying to set my default state of consciousness to keeping contents “at arm’s length”, and only inhabiting the contents, belief systems, at will and to specific purpose.
    I am at the point where I am becoming aware that there is such a thing as “psychic hygiene”, and various components of what will come to be the whole process are making themselves known to me one chunklet at a time.
    Anyway, thanks again for TTOT, it is a wonderful book, too rich to digest in one round, and it has been the most personally consequential book that I have read in a decade. It was exactly the medicine I needed, and couldn’t’ve come at a better time.

  • Diane B

    Thanks so much for writing this. Robert. And thanks to Emerson for flitting through your imaginal library. I am sure it was Emerson–or at least it sounds like “my” Emerson, too. Those three words penetrate to the heart or essence of my understanding of his thought. Rectitude and attitude enable us to be nourished by plenitude–the infinite conscious energy of the universe. Plenitude–if we believe in it–enables each us to maintain the necessary rectitude and attitude to follow our unique calling.

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