Book reflection: "Self-reliance"

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are… There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.Ralph Waldo Emerson

I feel the weariness of friends in lockdown interstate. Here we are, quickly approaching the end of 2021 and we’ve yet to open up our borders. I wish there was more I could do to help. Spring has sprung and although I have so much to look forward to – longer daylight hours and blossoming flowers, summer fruit and raw vegetables, picnics and salty hair – the first feeling is that of déjà vu. Has a year not passed, why do things still feel the same? Is it because nothing has changed much in the world? Is it because I’ve not finished my thesis yet? Is it because of travel restrictions and a feeling of being physically stuck? And why is it uncomfortable? But also, does it have to be uncomfortable?

When I find a moment of stillness to answer these questions, I find the answer to the last question is, ‘yes’. Yes, because feeling stuck is usually not a very pleasant feeling. The unpleasantness of the feeling isn’t bad though and once I am able to sit still with it, the initial discomfort is replaced by insight and perspective. Not everything in this situation is awful. I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of working on campus and working at home. I’ve been able to reconnect more frequently with friends interstate and internationally through video calls. Not knowing when I can visit in-person has made us call and connect regularly to make up for in-person conversations held during semi-annual visits.

Nothing is at least sacred but the integrity of your own mind.Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve enjoyed reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay on self-reliance. The edition I have includes essays by Jessica Helfand as she reflects on creativity and engaging with art, ‘writing, drawing, thinking, making’, which re-anchors me in creating the culminating product of my years of study as a Ph.D. student. Stillness and stuckness provide an opportunity for creativity too. The quiet solitude allows for a re-exploration of my own truth, my values and a re-commitment to living not only my best life, but a fully authentic one.

Perception is how we reclaim resilience, and redirect the gaze. It’s how we reverse perspective and refocus our work. It’s how we reset our own psychological boundaries when the physical ones around us have been so rattled. Shifting perspective is more than a coping mechanism: it’s a creative strategy for survival… If we live truly, wrote Emerson, we shall see truly.Jessica Helfand, On closure


Tagged in What messes with your head, books, Student life