“We never completely feel whole as human beings until we become fully self-reliant.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson and Transcendentalism

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the essay “Self-Reliance”. He was a progressive spiritual teacher and the father of the transcendentalist movement in the 19th century. It was based on a belief in the following concepts.

  • The essential unity of all creation (inter being)

  • The innate goodness of humanity (compassion)

  • The supremacy of insight over logic (heart over mind or divine inner wisdom)

  • The experience for the revelation of the deepest truths (transformative wisdom)

Transcendentalism started in Concord, Mass. between 1830 and 1855. It represented a transformation in social consciousness from the religious bonds of fundamental conservatism to what can be described as spiritual emancipation.

Some believe that this transformation or spiritual evolution is still in process. Like all evolutionary transformation, social and spiritual evolution takes time, sometimes generations of time to fully be realized. Some believe that great spiritual teachers like the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Socrates, Emerson and Whitman etc. were the first seeds of this evolution in human consciousness.

Looking Inward

According to Emerson,

“God could best be found by looking inward into one’s own self, one’s own soul, and from such an enlightened self-awareness would in turn come freedom of action and the ability to change one’s world according to the dictates of one’s own ideals and conscience. Human spiritual renewal thus proceeds from the individual’s intimate personal experience of his own portion of the divine over - soul, which is present in and permeates the entire creation and all living things, and which is accessible if only a person takes the trouble to look for it”.

This is meditation and this is also what he defines as self-reliance.

Emerson’s doctrine of self-sufficiency and self-reliance naturally springs from his view that the individual need only look into his own heart for the spiritual guidance and you really don’t have to look ant further. It’s then that you have to have the courage to be yourself, and to trust the inner force within you as you live your life according to your intuitively derived precepts.

Through meditation, you learn the meaning of self-reliance. You learn to rely on your own spontaneous impressions of what is meaningful, what is relevant and what is right.

To be self-reliant is to observe your own flash of insight and have the courage to follow it. It is to have the courage to be a non-conformist and to realize that there is nothing more sacred than the integrity of your own mind and heart.

On this count Emerson tells us,

“What have I to do with the doctrines of the church or the sacredness of their traditions if I live wholly from within? No law can be sacred to me but that of my own nature!”

When you consciously take full responsibility for your lives and your actions. That is the beginning of your journey to becoming a fully realized, self-reliant human being.

Fear of No Self

Becoming self-reliant is a direct root to emotional independence. It is the transcendence of going from no self (illusion) to true self (authenticity).

We are socially conditioned to cling to our egos out of fear. The fear of a non-existent sense of self or “no self”. We struggle for the security we seek to help us rationalize our behavior, to buttress our illusions of an insubstantial sense of self.

Letting go of the conditioning through meditation allows us to connect with our true selves, that spirit deep within that is authentic and that we can truly rely on. Our inner narrative, our own story line, these thoughts about ourselves and our lives are our feeble efforts to buttress our ego, to strengthen our false sense of self.

Find Your True Nature

Becoming truly self-reliant means that you are willing to let all of that go, drop the story line, drop all conditioned thinking and defenses so that you may confront the ultimate reality of your life. This is what we do in meditation. Each time you practice, you become more aware of your own true nature.

Self-reliance moves us to healthy action to nourish our own mind, body and spirit. It allows us to trust in and work with our own divine energy rather than negate or fight it, it helps us realize that the source of being truly awake in the world can never come from outside sources, only from within. This is self-reliance.


Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson Volume 1. New York: Black’s Readers Service Company. Print.

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Sangha Without Borders is currently physically located in London, UK