First off, where did all the hair go?! I’ve been bald as a cue ball for 25 years. Actually, a cue ball with a little fuzz on the side. On the bright side, I spend a total of an hour, and $0, per year on hair care (my wife shears what little fuzz that does grow every six weeks or so. Takes five minutes.).
Now on to the great Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a 22-year-old senior at Princeton University, this is the quote I chose for my yearbook page:
“Absolve you to yourself and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”
It obviously meant a lot to me then, but all these years later it means far more.
Emerson’s mid-19th century prose can be hard to understand. So here’s my rewrite using modern language:
“Dedicate yourself to being the real, authentic you and you will live a thriving life.”
By ‘live a thriving life’ I don’t mean that you will become President of the United States or the richest person on the planet — although that could very well happen should you chart this path. I mean that you will be energized, enthusiastic and content.
How do we discover the real, authentic us? It’s a three-step process. First, we get quiet inside. Second, we listen to the silence.
The great Persian poet Rumi put it best:
“There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.”
That is the voice we listen to in the silence. It’s the sacred voice that people refer to as God, the Universe, the Supreme Being and a host of others. Whatever it is, it is the deepest essence of us.
So we get quiet. Then we listen to the mysterious voice. The third thing we do is act on what the voice tells us. How? We follow our intuition. We follow our nose.
Finding our path in life usually doesn’t come in one ‘listening’ session. Mark Twain, perhaps the greatest of all American writers, serves as a salient example. Twain didn’t become a writer with one youthful epiphany. It happened in stages.
Mark Twain’s circuitous path to writing
When he was twelve, a measles epidemic decimated Twain’s Iowa town. He was so sure he’d die that he snuck out of his home and got in bed with his friend who was deathly ill from it. Twain got very sick but lived.
His mother was so upset with him for doing this that she sent him to another town to be an apprentice to a printer. This introduced him to reading and books.
In his late teens, Twain found a fifty-dollar bill on the ground. After nobody claimed it, he used the money for a trip to the Amazon, a fascination he’d developed from a book he printed. To get to Brazil he needed to take a steamboat down the Mississippi. And that was when he fell in love with the Mississippi and the boats that traversed it.
These events and many more led, decades later, to Twain writing America’s greatest novel, Huckleberry Finn. And it was all the result of Twain listening to the voice within. Following his nose.
I loved the quote but didn’t live it
Why does the Emerson quote resonate more with me now than when I made it my yearbook quote? While it struck a deep chord back in 1987, the fact is that I didn’t live Emerson’s quote for several decades.
I got a job in Washington, D.C., after graduation and allowed myself to get swallowed up by the political power game. “I’m a legislative assistant, which is cool, but so and so is the legislative director for a congressman. I need to be that!”
Then it was onto lobbying and measuring myself by how many dollars I made. Needless to say, chasing power and money always left me a few French fries short of a Happy Meal.
Still short of fries in Hollywood
Then it was off to Hollywood where I chased creative glory. Everything was measured by who had what writing job on what show and at what level. Yet again, I was wanting for fries.
It wasn’t until I discovered meditation, mindfulness and the spiritual path that I truly felt that I had ‘absolved me to myself.’ That’s what those practices push us toward — quieting down our insides so we can hear, as Rumi wrote, that “…voice that doesn’t use words.”
Which has led to my feeling that I have ‘the suffrage of the world.’ That is, I’m allowing the true me to come through me. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the world keeps showering me with good fortune.
So what does this all mean for you? Get quiet inside. Drown out the external mind noise.
The real, authentic you is in there, dying to be heard. Listen for it. Let it take over the steering wheel of your life. When you do, ‘you shall have the suffrage of the world.’