Trust that Light Within
A few years back, I was flying home from a trip to Portland with a book in hand and an inspired mind. I love book recommendations, and a friend had recently suggested I read a few of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays. I found a beautiful edition in Powell’s bookstore and was finally getting a chance to open it up on the plane. Opening up to his essay “Self Reliance”, there’s a paragraph on the first page that has made such a profound impact on me:
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.”
-Emerson, Self Reliance
Emerson’s insight about learning to trust ourselves deeply connected with me. He put into words a phenomenon that has happened countless times inside my head, yet I was never able to articulate it.
How many times had I dismissed a thought or idea because I didn’t think it would be accepted or of popular opinion, then later run across the same idea produced by someone else, and viewed their work with awe!? Then follows the uncomfortable feelings of “I had that idea, I wish I hadn’t dismissed it”. I feel silly for having cared about the hypothetical opinions of others, or in Emerson’s words “the firmament of bards and sages”.
We all have our own “bards and sages”; those groups who we look up to and respect. Looking up to people is a great thing and other’s ideas must be celebrated! But conforming to the point of a confinement of individual exploration and creativity is dangerous. We confine ourselves. Suppress our genius. Hide the masterpiece sitting on the shelves of our brain. Why? Because we care too much about how it will be received. How we will be received. Yet, those who have made the most stunning contributions to the world, are those who are brave enough to overcome the self-conscience resistance, trust their own ideas, and walk forward.
I’ll never forget those words of Emerson I read that day on the plane. They gave me strength. Strength at the time, to pay attention to the inner tug inside me to leave my job and start this design studio near the ocean, despite all my fears and intimidations. And those words continue to offer me strength as I move through the creative tasks at hand every day, as I paint, as I share my thoughts, as I begin this blog … and slowly begin to trust myself in the creative process.
I hope the same for you as you read this, and cannot urge you enough to trust that “gleam of light which flashes across [your] mind from within”.