What I wish to do with this wild, precious life is something I struggle continuely to get a handle on. Staying active and open to presence is also something I really do think more about than actually do, at least during this phase of my life. This week's program captured a handful of sentiments via analogies to light. I'd like to pass along Ralph Waldo Emerson's words, his analogies to light, to illuminate my take on each of these things, because I have to admit, I agree wholeheartedly with him: 'There is no place to anchor, no resting point. "We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them." There is no answer to this dilemma, no solution, but there is a best course of action. We have nothing but our conviction of the adequacy of the present moment to throw into the uneven balance. "We must set up the strong present tense against all the rumors of wrath, past or to come'.
From Chapter 67 of "Emerson The Mind On Fire" by Robert D. Richardson Jr:
Most of Emerson's books contain one essay on doubt: it is "Circles" in the first volumes of essays, "Montaigne" in Representative Men, and "Experience" here. The Emerson of this essay, like Thoreau on Katahldin, is avid for "contact" with "reality".
"Experience" confronts and accepts a world in which "dream delivers us to dream, and there is no end to illusion" without clamoring for redemption or quick deliverance. "Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus." "The secret of the illusoriness," he adds, "in in the necessity of a succession of moods and object." There is no place to anchor, no resting point. "We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them." There is no answer to this dilemma, no solution, but there is a best course of action. We have nothing but our conviction of the adequacy of the present moment to throw into the uneven balance. "We must set up the strong present tense against all the rumors of wrath, past or to come".
We are obliged to live within "the beautiful limits," and we cannot have power simply at will. Emerson now concedes that "power keeps quite another road than the turnpike of choice and will, namely the subterranean and invisible tunnels and channels of life."
"Experience" is not a despairing essay. If Emerson accepts no one vision, no one set of facts, he proposes an entirely new order of fact. "It is not what we believe concerning the immortality of the soul or the like, but the universal impulse to believe [his emphasis], that is the material circumstance and is the principle fact in the history of the globe." The essay builds to a powerful acceptance of subjectivity, which Emerson calls the "Fall of Man." We learn, he says, "that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their error." This new awareness, this subjective self-awareness, is like a black hole, ravenously threatening to absorb all things. "Nature, art, persons, letters, religions, objects, successively tumble in, and God is but one of its ideas. Nature and literature are subjective phenomena, every evil and every good thing is a shadow which we cast." The same subjectivity that gives authority to us as individuals sentences us to a world of relative truth. "People forget that it is the eye which makes the horizon." As he accepts subjectivity and uncertainty, so he can now accept disunity: "I am a fragment and this [essay ] is a fragment of me."
But Emerson will not settle for Fichtean solipsism or the sophist's shrug. He knows what the Stoic has always known. Real knowledge may be unattainable; the question therefore is not "What can I know?" but "How should I live?" Sartre said of the prison experiences of members of the French Resistance, "It is not what they do to you, it is what you do with what they do to you that matters." Emerson ends with a similar assertion: "I know that the world I converse with in the city and in the farm is not the world I think." The last sentence is his bridge back: "The true romance, which the world exists to realize, will be the transformation of genius into practical power." His own drive for practical power brought him to this" "To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom." "Experience" is about the impossibilities, miscarriages, and mortgagings of power. Emerson conceded now for the first time that nature may have been very "sparing of her fire" in making us. But "Experience" is not a flaccid or defeated essay because Emerson's tough articulateness and awareness are also weapons. The arsenal of power is larger than we think, and the fire within may be modest, but it is still sufficient.
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