“Conformity and obedience, …. Do what you’re told. Never get angry. Don’t ruffle any feathers. These are the internal messages that hold us back. We have to learn to form our own opinions and trust our own perceptions. Especially women. Without this, we have no ethical independence.” IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE
It’s been a little more than 150 years since Ralph Waldo Emerson put his ideas about self-reliance to paper and urged us “… to learn to detect and watch the gleam of light which flashes across mind from within … that deep force, the last fact behind which analysis cannot go.” In a classic example of how humans reconfigure wisdom to meet the demands of the day, self-reliance has come to mean not that we trust and depend on our intuition as Emerson counseled, but that we do everything on our own — especially if we want to get the job done right.
Relying on Self, on that “gleam of light from within” then acting on it is inspired experience. To know what you know, then act on what you know, feeds body, mind and soul like nothing on the menu of earthly delights. It breeds Self-confidence and it opens the door to the Truth, Peace, and Beauty of the spiritual life.
Doing for ourselves can breed new skills and confidence. It’s part of the developmental cycle: We crawl, we stand, we walk, we cha cha cha. Doing it all ourselves is emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting; a pseudo self-reliance. It denies us the opportunity to collaborate, to become experienced partners with others and with Life itself. It robs us of the joy of letting others contribute to our lives. It isolates us emotionally and spiritually. We lose our joy.
Sound familiar? Lest you think I have mystic superpowers that allow me to read your mind, let me say it’s not hard to notice what is culturally endemic among women. Keeping Multiple Balls in the Air is every woman’s middle name. We are — every one of us — on intimate terms with the perils of pseudo-self-reliance.
As with everything else we want to make right with the world, women must make the time and space in our lives to nurture Emersonian Self-reliance in ourselves and in others. We must edge out our small thoughts about self, (“I need to do it all in order to be successful/ worthy / good enough.”) about other (“I have to take care of everyone else or everything will fall apart.”), and about God (“I cannot be loved for who I am in the present moment.). Our “job” is to make good use of whatever God sends us. We do not have to be perfect. We only need be present to the holiness in the moment. It’s how we learn to cha cha cha.