Emerson’s Self-Reliance and Coffee


Socrates said “Know thyself,” and after reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Self-Reliance, we could paraphrase Emerson’s main point as “Trust thyself.”

What if we trusted ourselves- our inner most thoughts, our actions, our perceptions, our wills? What if we were to strive for a more meaningful independent life and not settle for the sullen mediocrity encouraged by society’s institutions? Self-Reliance was first published in 1841, but Emerson’s words still ring with an awakening truth 177 years later. In this post, I hope to bring across some of the key points Emerson made which spoke to me personally.

Emerson states that we should look more to our thoughts and not be so dependent on the words of the past:

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.”1

This work we must do ourselves:

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that lot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”2

We must believe in ourselves:

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine Providence has found for you; the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.”3

Emerson warns us that society will push back against those who seek to go their own way:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.”4

Emerson states that we must shun conformity in order to find our truth:

“Self-reliance is its [conformity’s] aversion. It [conformity] loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind.”5

As we venture out on this new self-reliant life, people will question us, and may even misunderstand our intentions. Emerson states that if we are misunderstood, then we are in good company:

“Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”6

Emerson makes many more wonderful points, but for the sake of time and space, I would encourage you to seek them out on your own. The last points I will make concerning Self-Reliance is that I find some of Emerson’s points parallel that of the Stoic philosphers, especially when he discusses the spark of divinity each of us possess, the importance of living in the present moment, and that our happiness is solely up to us, principles I have learned and have tried to implement along the recentstops of my life’s journey. God bless.

1Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Introduction and notes by Peter Norberg. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. 2004: 113-114.

2Ibid, 114.

3Ibid, 114.

4Ibid, 116.

5Ibid, 116, brackets mine.

6 Ibid, 120.


A Place at the Table

By Michael W. Raley

If we are to live in a new Age of Enlightenment,

We must not look to dividing religions or morally insolvent governments.

Each and every woman, child, and man

Must do the work with their own hands.

Each of us must realize that we are free

To choose how to live and what we shall be.

The hurts of the past we cannot change,

Yet we allow them to eat away at us like a mange.

As long as we have today, it is not too late

To turn away from this deep-seated, barbaric, and tribal hate,

Which has hindered and encapsulated our kindred spirits,

For the time has come to do away with it.

We must hold ourselves to the highest accountability,

Question the institutional authority and use our own rationality.

Do not be afraid to question long held beliefs,

Because learning a new truth can bring you joy, peace, and relief.

Do away with the prejudices and the fables

Because everyone deserves a seat at the table.

The Bible and Slavery

“Only the educated are free.”- Epictetus

I am currently reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the first of three autobiographies concerning the former American slave, who escaped to freedom and became an outspoken abolitionist concerning the anti-slavery movement leading up to the American Civil War.

Douglass in heart-wrenching detail describes not only his treatment as a slave, but the horrendous treatment of African-American slaves at the hands of the white, Southern slave owners. How one human being could treat another human in such a vile and despicable manner is beyond me. Moreover, what has drawn my attention was Douglass’ comments concerning how the so-called “Christian” slave owners were much harsher in their treatment of their slaves, using their so-called righteousness as a cloak for maliciousness.

Maybe it’s me getting older or the fact I am taking a more reasoned approach to my beliefs, but I find the hypocrisy of religion to be appalling. Just as these slaveowners used The Bible to justifying owing and degrading another person, this same book has been used to persecute religious minorities, oppress women, and is the basis for the right-wing church to justify their collective homophobia. My politics take no title such as Republican, Democrat, Fundamentalist, Socialist, or anything of the sort. It is difficult for me to write this post, as I know how some will perceive it, but I cannot control your opinions or perceptions. I am not out to “convert” anyone or change your mind, I am simply putting forth what The Bible says concerning slavery. For the sake of space and time, I will list ahandful of scrptures and cite other verses concerning this subject.

The Bible states the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for over 400 years and they cried out to God to deliver them. God sent Moses and the rest, as they say, is history. With all of the harsh treatment the Israelites received at the hands of the Egyptians, one would think they would not want to treat their fellow man as such. However, God, in the Law lays out the treatment of slaves, both Hebrew and Gentile.

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (Exodus 21:2-11, NIV). Exodus also gives guidelines concerning the beating of slaves: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (Exodus 21:20-21, NIV).

*See also: Exodus 21:26-27, Exodus 21:31-32, Exodus 23:12, Leviticus 19:20-22, Leviticus 25:44-46, Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

At this point, one may argue, “Well, that’s the Old Testament.”

It is an interesting fact to note that no New Testament writer, the Apostles, or even the Lord Jesus himself never in any way condemn the practice of slavery. Slaves are commanded to obey their masters as they would obey Christ:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9, NIV).

*See also: Colossians 3:22, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18-19.

At this point there would be some doing what Iwould call “apologetic mental gymnastics” and down play the use of the terms slave and master and apply these Scriptures to the modern day employer/employee relationship, which is not analagous to one human owning another human. Elsewhere in the New Testament, slavery is spoken of in the metaphorical sense in that we are slaves to sin, from which Christ set us free.

The purpose of this post is not to rekindle hard feelings from events that happened centuries ago. Rather, I want to examine what I call “biblical difficulties” and how a non-Christian would respond to the Bible. The Bible’s support of slavery is one of the largest and most justified criticisms of Scripture. More importantly, I want to take deeper look at the book that so many people, including myself, hold dear and find out if it is truly relevant for our day and age. Why didn’t God or Jesus just come out and ban slavery? Why didn’t the early church fathers abolish it? Why did some American churches allow for such atrocities committed against our fellow people? I believe the soul searching question we must answer is “If your faith is not helping you become a better person to all, is it a faith worth having?” If your faith spews hatred and disrespect, should you go along with it? Can you continue to justify belief in any holy book that justifies discrimination or hatred against anyone?

Since Hypocrisy Abounds



By Michael W. Raley

Since hypocrisy abounds,

Let us check to ensure

That the love we profess for others is genuine

And not lip service to a self-righteous high ground.

For I too have been numbered with the hypocrites

And it is not a pleasant truth to face:

When you demand to be right at any costs,

You have hindered true compassion and grace.

I see my ugly flaws,

As they are in plain view.

I must work on myself

Before I should give any advice to you.

Before you speak, give yourself pause

And think about what you will do and say.

Consider the cause

Search your soul and consider your ways.

Upon Further Review…

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

In recent years, I have done a lot of what I would call “mid-life reflection,” where I have pondered the direction of my life. I have also taken a hard look at what I believe and why I believe it. Does what I believe stand up to critical examination, logic, reason, and common sense? Am I willing to let go of certain beliefs if they no longer stand up to scrutiny? Can I be intellectually honest enough with myself to admit to such a finding?

To paraphrase the great Jedi masters, I have not fallen to “the dark side,” but I do allow myself to play “devil’s advocate.” Let’s take my Christian faith for example. I was born in the United States, more specifically Indiana, where Christianity is the dominant religion. Indiana coincidentally, tends to more fundamental in its faith, which by default leads people to being more politically and socially conservative. However, what if I was born in Thailand? More than likely I would have become a Buddhist, because Buddhism is the dominant religion and culture in Thailand. Same goes for India, where people practice Hinduism, or what if I was born in Saudi Arabia, where people follow the teachings of Islam?

The question becomes is our faith simply a by-product of what we are born into and therefore accept without question because it’s the norm? Also, if we believe to hold onto the one true faith, why do we react so harshly to criticism? Why has religion been the source of so much bloodshed throughout the history of the planet? Much worse than an unexamined life are the consequences of unexamined ideas and the people who follow along. We must temper what we believe with reason and not give blind allegiance to people of any religious, social, or political group, because we can find ourselves disillusioned when we place faith in man.

Examining your values and beliefs doesn’t have to wait until all hell breaks loose, but it can be a daily exercise to cleanse our minds and spirits. I intend this year to go deeper into my reflection without fear of asking the hard questions. I also intend to examine the common responses, or in most cases, cliches that all of us say because we feel compelled to say something. I want to explore deeper subjects and go beyond the surface. If faith is an ocean, I intend to explore the Mariana Trench. I am going to take a reasoned, philosophical, and verifiable approach to faith. I hope you come along for the journey. God bless.

Balance Out the Extremes

As a music lover, I believe that few things can stir the soul like the sound of an orchestra. All of the musicians and instruments can stand out while at the same time achieve a harmonious sound. There are no words needed to convey the emotions because they come across in the music. We must not allow ourselves to focus solely on the violins or cellos, for we will not hear the majesty of the horns or the whimsy of the woodwinds. The beauty of the orchestra is in the balance of everything coming together. I believe that in life, we too must find this harmonious balance.

I believe on important way to find our balance is to cut out the extremes in our thoughts, faith, actions, and interactions with others. As science and technology has progressed, there is something still in humans that keeps us in this territorial mindset, where we believe our group and our group alone is right. Though we are individuals, we seek community, often with like-minded people, because it makes us feel safe and comfortable. However, if we seek only people and groups who look like us, think like us, and talk like us, we will lose the chance to become part of the larger community.

When we insulate ourselves in this fundamentalist or extremist  “group thinking,” we will become ignorant and fearful of the world around us. People who don’t live like “us” are often perceived as a threat to our way of life, and a persecuted mindset takes hold. This line of thinking, unfortunately, leads only to more hate, suffering, and outright discrimination, which only sends us back as a society.

Have you ever stopped to realize that the person or group of people you distrust or fear- often based on superficial reasons such as skin color, orientation, religion, political affiliation, age, income, or anything else- simply wants the same thing you do? These people seek to live their lives in freedom, without having to face fear, bigotry, judgment, or persecution. What if we focused our time on being the best person we could be and not worry about trying to mold our neighbor into who we want them to be? What if we would be deliberate and pragmatic in solving the problems we face? What if we would shed all of these labels and see each other for who we are? That would be a start to finding the balance in the middle of the extremes.

Book Review- Meditations

marcus aurelius
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Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) is considered to be both one of the last great emperors of Rome and along with Seneca and Epictetus, one of the pillars of Roman Stoicism. Aurelius’ book Meditations serves as a great insight into the mind of Aurelius and provides a framework of Stoic philosophy. However, Meditations is not a book written for the public, but was Marcus Aurelius’ personal journal, written on the war front and during his quiet time at the palace.

Book One of Meditations details the list of people who have influenced Aurelius on his life’s journey and what he received from each of them. For example: “From my grandfather Verus: decency and a mild temper. From what they say and I remember of my natural father: integrity and manliness. From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrong doing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.”1

Aurelius’ note on Appolonius really embodies Stoic aspects: “…to be always the same man, unchanged in sudden pain, in the loss of a child, in lingering sickness…”2

Stoicism as a philosphy is about focusing on improving our inner character, controlling the things within our control (thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions) and not worrying about what’s not in our control (our reputation, whether or not we’ll be famous, the weather, to give a few examples). Aurelius is what we could call a reluctant politician, but he recognized that we cannot control how people act, we can only control our response to them. Book two starts off with this applicable nugget of wisdom:

“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling,ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own- not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong.”3

Other major themes throughout Meditations:

*Live each day as if it was your last, not with reckless abandonment, but careful thought given to your ways andwords, doing all with excellence.

*Look for the beauty in everything.

*Minding our own business,working on improving ourselves, not worrying about what others are doing or being judgmental.

*Being adaptable to whatever circumstances come our way.

*No matter how long we live, the same fate, death, awaits us all, as it did the generations before us and the generations after us.

*Manage our perceptions, thereby, we manage our judgments of events.

*What happens to you as an individual affects the whole of humanity.

The Stoics have often been characterized as being emotionless, which is far from the truth. The Stoics were people of great inner reflection and who were able to manage their emotions, thereby keeping their perspective of circumstances. As Aurelius wrote:

“Reflect often on the speed with which all things in being, or coming into being,are carried past and swept away. Existence is like a river in ceaseless flow, its actions a constant succession of change, its causes innumerable in their variety: scarcely anything stands still, even what is most immediate. Reflect too on the yawning gulf of past and future time, in which all things vanish. So in all this it must be folly for anyone to be puffed with ambition, racked in struggle, or indignant at his lot-as if this was anything lasting likely to trouble him for long.”4

Where do we fit into this scheme?

“Think of the whole of existence, of which you are the tiniest part; think of the whole of time, in which you have been assigned a brief and fleeting moment; think of destiny-what fraction of that are you?”5

Stoicism began to decline after Aurelius’ death, which coincided with the rise of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Stoicism, however is making a comeback of sorts, as there are business leaders, athletes, and everyday people who are putting its principles to practice. I also find that Stoicism is compatible with my Christian faith, as some of Aurelius’ passage echo themes found in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

You don’t need to have any extensive background in philosophy or religion to read Meditations, as Aurelius brings forth his points that are still relevant almost 2,000 years later. What if we were to focus our limited time on improving ourselves and not pointing the finger or bickering with each other? What if we could see that others are like us, they too are on their own journey, trying to find their place in the world? I will leave you with the perspective of Aurelius- we are all in this together, let’s make the best of it.

“All things are meshed together, and a sacred bond unites them.Hardly a single thing is alien to the rest: ordered together in their places they together make up the one order of the universe. There is one universe out of all things, one God pervading all things, one substance, one law, one common reason in all intelligent beings, and one truth- if indeed there is also one perfection of all cognate beings sharing in the same reason.”6

1Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, translation and notes by Martin Hammond. London: Penguin Books (2006): 3.

2Ibid, 4.

3Ibid, 10.

4Ibid, 42.

5Ibid, 42.

6Ibid, 59.