School room in The School of Philosophy, built by A Bronson Alcott, financed by his daughter, Louisa May Alcott.

Studying Ralph Waldo Emerson

First Emerson Circle Class

October 9th, 2016 – part 1 of 4 (30 minutes)

Barbara: I’m very happy about this new form of study, and I want to mention why I’m doing it. For many years, for 20 years I had a course at the school which was beautiful and there were many sincere people that really wanted to study Emerson and for very good reason. He is an unbelievable, inspiring teacher of the philosophy of oneself. I have as you know been studying him my entire life since I was a teenager. I continue to present to young people and any age person, so I honestly think I wrote this to many of you. The purpose of this class was to continue the study since it’s right now it’s not being offered at the school as a study. As a study day, which you certainly are invited to once a term once a year. I want something a little more regular, and I have the full backing of it’s the work that I do so we’re starting this way, so we’ll meet once a month.  Nine times a year and let’s see what happens. It’s so much that could happen, but I’m honestly only interested in real deep study anything superficial I’m not interested in so this is the requisite if this really what you want to do this is it then you know what I mean because he’s not meant to be taken shallowly. Anyone who teaches Emerson I spoke once with Jacob Needleman you might know him. It was the bicentennial we got together several times because he was asked to speak and I met him, and he said to me you can’t even read a paragraph without stopping you know all over the place. You can’t even assign more than five paragraphs to a class; it’s that deep.  So what I’m offering you is something to go deep with and not just say the first thing that comes to mind; to honor the quality and substance of what you are reading and the reason there is a circle here.  Guess why? What does it remind you of?

Audience: School

Barbara: School [laughing] yes

Audience: What did you say?

Barbara: School

Audience: The circle of life

Barbara: The circle of life. What else? Could you move this, please? I need my stuff.

Audience: Unity

Barbara: Unity, the circle, is the perfect figure of wholeness, totality perfection, right?

Audience: Yeah, but the love that we have.

Barbara: Yes, exactly and Emerson had his Circle when he was moving through the world transforming whoever could hear what they were saying. So, each of us has a part to play here but you just have to be careful, and I’m going to read you something in a minute that will help me set the tone.
Circle a group of people with shared interest, right? A circle, it’s not a sewing circle, [laughter] right? It’s a study circle and the way I’ve been raised in the school of philosophy my whole life, is that real study is living the teaching using it and what is Emerson’s famous motto? Come on people you know?

Audience: (Inaudible)

Barbara: So, that’s what we’re going to do here. This he realized as a young boy at Harvard back then he started at 14 back then he came in reading Plato. 14, that’s not easy on his own and was incredibly grateful to Socrates because he’s the real teacher, not Plato. To teach him to listen to his inner voice, the voice of intuition. The Voice of the deepest highest self, not the voice of the ego. Are we all familiar with that because you can break through with anything, and that’s not necessarily that deeper voice, do you know what I’m saying? The deeper voice is nourishing truthful and full of wisdom isn’t that right, so that’s how we nourish each other waiting sometimes. Don’t just say the first thing that comes to mind. Will it benefit anybody is it true or do I just want attention right? I mean there’s lots of reading circles that just babble… this ain’t it. So I wanted to start with that. Also, I want to say that over the years that I’ve known Jim, which is about twenty years, he was in the original group. As was Andy and Lisa way back when. However.

Jim: If it weren’t for Barbara, the website, would never have existed.

Barbara: Um

Jim: She was the inspiration.

Barbara: We talked about the need to develop a group that will have real conversations of substance and that’s what this will be. Are you in?

Barbara: So I want to share with you something that is profoundly helpful in what I’m saying and then we’ll start studying.  This is from I’m sure you know Thomas Moore wrote, “Care of the Soul.” He’s current today, he’s a Forchino expert, a psychologist, a mythologist. He was a priest, so he’s got an unbelievable background, and in this we’re soulmates. Do you think it’s just your mate that is just your soulmate? That your mate is the only one that can be a soulmate to you?

Audience: No

Barbara: Please with this in mind please turn off your cell phone laughter

Jim: Put it on vibrate or something

Barbara: You good guy all right

Jim: I should have mentioned it I’m sorry.

Barbara: Anyone that you intimately and soulfully connect to is your soulmate, and that’s a beautiful concept. So, listen to what he says, and he’s using Emerson as an example in conversation. So, this will not be repeated this is just an intro to the study, but you are certainly capable of downloading or getting the book.

So, conversation, true conversation, is an interpenetration of worlds. A genuine intercourse of its souls which doesn’t have to be self-consciously profound but does have to touch matters of concern to the soul. The following passage is from Emerson September 30, 1842, “Hawthorne, as in Nathaniel and I set out for a walk. Our walk had no incidents it needed none, for we both were in excellent spirit and had much conversation. Well we were both old collectors who never had  an opportunity before to show each other our cabinets.”

Right, something was touched deeply, and that is what we’re talking about right? Then there’s more there’s a lot more here. Then he says for Emerson, the important thing was for both men, and I would say for all of us, that we are collectors that we have thoughts deep thoughts in our cabinets. Memories to exchange ideas, to discuss the soul is more a container than an instrument. These two, soulful men, have had much to bring out for each other’s enjoyment as they walked the 40 miles together in their two-day journey.

Do you relate to that I mean I believe and see it every day of my life that people are hungry for real conversation. Extended, deep conversation on things that matter to living life in helping the world, don’t you agree?

Conversation does not have to be confessional to be soulful. Don’t worry, [laughter] although it could be. [laughter] What matters is not how much you expose yourself, but what you are engaged in. What does that mean to you how do you, engage? Your being, your deepest part of yourself, and not just your heads.

Audience: Through your heart.

Barbara: Through your heart definitely

Audience: Caring

Barbara: Caring

Audience: Commitment, full commitment is offering yourself without any considerations, without any conditions.

Barbara: Exactly

Audience: Love, pure love.

Barbara: without judging anybody listening, right? Listening to yourself, right? Listening to what is needed trust to say right? What else can you say about that really? What I’m asking is, to develop. So trust, trust yourself first, right? And then trust that.

That’s why we asked you, did you mind that we taped this? Jim wants to put on the website audio of this conversation so that you can hear it and tune into it.

Jim: Only for members

Barbara: Only for members

Audience: I think you opened by saying that, in each study, that you’re speaking from that place, sometimes just taking that moment to pause.

Barbara: Exactly

Audience: Coming present and speaking from your higher self you think about what you’re going to say.

Barbara: Maybe they can put on some air conditioning. Because otherwise, we do want to hear each other, that’s the main event [laughter].

Audience: It’s hard to hear.

Barbara: What honey?

Audience: Can you say that phrase again about the soul is more than a container

Barbara: Instrument, the soul, is a container more than an instrument. What does that mean to you?

Audience: So actually, listening, I heard those words very distinctively it’s something that holds instead of something that breaks out, in other words, it’s complete unto itself, and everything arises from that.

Barbara: Exactly and everything we learned so much in life and it’s stored somewhere right in the deepest part of us you can remember all kinds of things call it heart and soul, right?

Audience: So, that’s the trick

Barbara: Yes, part of it is the trick part of it is even deeper. Your being, right? Your very essence has been shaped. So you have to listen a little more. It’s good, right, beautiful. Here again to Emerson, this is to his other friend seven years later, Thomas Carlyle, this is why I want to do this remember? That’s why I’m taking the time to read someone else other than Emerson.
The purpose of Conversation is to give me self-possession so you know more about yourself as the words come out, have you ever had that experience, right? It’s just drawn out.

Audience: (16:24)

Barbara: And you even hear it for the first time unless you’re sitting here planning what you want to say then it’s not real. There comes a safe and gentle spirit which spreads out in order before me his whole life and aims not as an experience but as what is good. So something that is good speaks through us. He’ll talk in the first paragraph about the genius that every one of us has, that deep Guardian spirit that moves us. That is what genie, genius is.

He says straight away when he’s allowed to do that in real conversation, in REAL Conversation. I feel the presence of a new yet old native element; I regain my faculties right? You go in a group that wakes you up, and you go out of there totally rejuvenated, right? Glad that you participated and he says, “Life returns to a finger,” this is Emerson, “a hand, a foot, a new nimbleness, almost wings unfold by my side from real conversation.”

So this is a responsibility for all of us, Thomas Moore makes a few other points. So, the soul seems to prefer real conversation and he says his favorite modes are reflection so just like Lisa said before you leap you wait to hear what your voice is saying and then offer that that takes reflection. He says reverie you know in reference to something that will just come out as you were saying Virginia right you’re kind of forced to say it it’s just the right thing to do show reverence honor and lastly reminiscence. Things you know how you are reminded of things from your life that are worth sharing this is why he particularly is a psychologist priest right a teacher those are important if it comes up the matter because they will speak to the heart of your life so those are the ideas here and he says it relieves you of the pressures of everyday life when you’re involved in real conversation.

Audience:  that conversation could be with his oneself

Barbara: yes, it can Susan

Audience: not necessarily with another person.

Barbara: Definitely

Audience: Which could be a non-judgmental and critical conversation

Barbara: Exactly

Audience: which is lifting

Barbara and that’s why in the whole realm of philosophy contemplative reflective thought is part of one’s day when you need to spend time what all did I see what all did I learn what can I improve how you grow and develop we need time for that sincere time and it’s two more point oh yeah this is beautiful too.
Conversation might be a Emersonian mode of psychoanalysis lifting experience into the higher regions of life making us feel more alive right in tune with your psyche your heart mind and soul we’re not just reading a novel here and by the way I was reading recently he said he didn’t read novels or Romance things he read about people he wanted to be inspired by how they lived their nature their natural expression that you could learn much more than that about a person and hence the whole movement of transcendentalism was about the power of the individual and really taking it on and anything is possible from Emerson’s point of view conversations are a way of coming to oneself I didn’t know I had thought this until I spoke it how do you like that so be aware of that.

Audience: Can you repeat that?

Barbara: Yes of course I didn’t know that I had thought this until I spoke it.  Hasn’t that happened to you right?

Audience: can I ask you something or is it too early

Barbara: Could you wait I’m almost finished and then I’ll… okay and he says in the over soul in which discontinued I was reading the other day somewhere it’s recommended that after a deep study of self-reliance you look at the over soul because you become in touch with self and self-reliance and the OverSoul is the deepest reflection of that self. So if you’re interested, that’s where we’ll go. Until he says in the OverSoul, that we live for such rare moments, when you’re brought deeply to yourself, and hence the company, the good company is so valuable.

Then he makes another point about listening, because of that we need to respect one another by listening fully, right truly? Everyone here is a teacher; that’s what we learned in the school, right? Everyone in front of you is a teacher, and we learn to respect and value that. The last point he makes and it’s another really good one, as a therapist, the material discussed in a truly important conversation. There is little ego involved, people trying to win an argument, make a point, preach a sermon, hold forth on a theory, right? We’ve seen that all right, and sometimes it’s us doing it, or giving testimony. That’s why I was a little worried to a belief that we were not engaged in conversation. What do you have to say about that? So ego is not where we’re speaking from, we’re speaking from a deeper place. Does that make sense to you?

Audience: yes

Barbara: Wouldn’t it be a relief? And, he says that conversation grows on its own if we value it with beauty, right?

Audience: yes

Barbara: And it’s basically about Emerson and how he practiced this art of conversation. So what do you want to say about that, did you want to say something?

Audience: and again, this might not be the right moment in our study, but you brought it up in this book the thing that I wasn’t sure that I understood. Which I know you’ll explain his notion that Emerson didn’t read romanticism novels but read about people.

Barbara: Thier biographies.

Audience: Their biographies that he respected, and that’s what I didn’t understand in this, that he felt that he should look to people as great artists. I may have misunderstood it. To look for a great politician or great religious leaders, that we’re not to look to them for our answers, I thought that is what he was saying.

Barbara: But no, we’ll get to that. The point is that in a novel or romance usually, it is kind of like well, what is the difference between that reading and this reading on your heart and mind? Well, you might like to read it which is fine, yes.

Audience: Well, something is describing something, and this is an observation.

Barbara: Yes

Audience: As opposed to a contemplation?

Barbara: Yes, definitely.

Audience: I would say fiction vs. nonfiction

Barbara: Yes, exactly.

Audience: So that honor of truth by use.

Barbara: Exactly he spent about ten years of his life writing about great men and women.

Audience: But you said.

Barbara: Wait, hold on because you are mixing things up here.

Audience: Okay

Barbara: The point is that where he would rather look to is how people live. The great people that he grew up regarding and you learn from that, and about human nature. They’re not going to answer your questions, but they’re worth talking about.

Audience: Besides reading, I think that a tremendous amount of understanding and for the soul to grow is to speak to people.

Barbara: Yes.

Audience: and never judge a book by its cover

Barbara: Exactly

Audience: because the surprise of what you might think and then what you might learn as you speak to someone it opens up an entire world

Barbara: Haven’t you had that happen and go like whoa?

Jim: The listening as you suggested is an act of love and then you’re opening that connection, that trust by listening, by actually listening.

Barbara: Definitely. So I recommend that you do keep notes here. Things will strike you; we’ll also try to have these notes, as we said, on the website. It’s different; it’s very different. One of the different lines will hit you. Different concepts, different things, make a note of that. The first thing Emerson told Thoreau was to spend some time in solitude every day and keep a journal. So if you don’t have paper or you don’t have your own, we’ll give it to you. You know it’s critical, it’s your study and your sharing the deepest thoughts that will come to you.  Okay so now we’re going to tune in Self-Reliance.

All right, so just make sure that you can see it. I do want to offer that this was a journal entry that Emerson wrote nine years before he published the essay of Self-Reliance. It gives you the kernel of what the whole essay is about.  October 14th, 1832, 9 AM.

He was 28 years old, he lived to 79, the great difficulty is that men and women do not think enough of themselves. Do not consider what they are sacrificing when they follow a herd or when they cater to their establishments. Do you get what I mean?

It’s really strong; they know not how divine they are?  Now even today, I mean, what did Emerson stand for? That each of us is divine, there’s not one of us that isn’t. How many people walk around with that belief? Or self-realization of that fact? Not too many. I know you say that a man thinks too much of himself. If you think that at last, he is wholly ignorant. He wonders in the outer darkness in the skirts and shadows of himself and has not seen his inner light. What strikes you?

That’s a journal entry nine years before the essay.

Audience: It’s so beautiful, so becoming…

Barbara: Well?

Audience: I’m so happy to be here, I’ve been moved by Emerson and his writings. His words are so teaching, so directive, directive in a way that I think is very uncommon there’s so much in the midst. In the world, there is so much that we’ve internalized, I believe we have been flattened, compressed.

Barbara: Yes.

Audience: There are minds, there are lives, the world itself has been compressed into fibers that aren’t necessarily even living, and this is the fiber of life.

Barbara: Yes

Audience: and the fiber of life is the center.

Barbara: Yes.

Audience: and the center is deep and always growing deeper.

Barbara That’s right.

Audience: and that when you say deep is high it’s one long continuum of openness and connection.

Barbara: Exactly, and by the way, that is what this essay, which is, you know, you can still sign up. Next week is about Circles. Hey Crystal

Jim: Hey Crystal

Barbara: Just get a chair Jim.

Jim: and speaking of clarity here is Crystal (Laughter),
here is one over here Crystal because the microphone is over there.

Barbara: In this incredible essay, I take it we could come right back, and this is what Andy is talking about, coming back to that center. Whereas, he says in Circles, that the circle represents God in you. Whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. That’s the beginning of the essay, quote Circles.  Emerson proceeds to say how every moment is new, no two moments are the same, and life continues to expand in a series of concentric circles. If you’re alive and well it will, if you’re stale and stuck you stop. You stop learning; you stop growing, but the natural thing in a human life is to whoosh, and there is no end. That’s what this is about, you’re invited to come if you haven’t signed up. [laughter]

Barbara: Yes.

Audience one thing about circles is but it came from circles is the idea that each of us is a sphere

Barbara yes

Audience: So these spears, if you think about them, sometimes mingling and when they mingle their mingling that pure connection. If they are opposite they’ll just bounce off each other and never come. You’ll see the spear floating together, they’ll never become the same thing, but they can get pretty darn close, and maybe they’ll shift as well to mutual relationships

Barbara: What hun

Audience: Just wanted to say

Barbara: Yeah go ahead

Audience: What you were saying about being [32:41] what I hear is a continuum of being divine as so much of us walk around having these self-conversations and aren’t always positive I think is.

Barbara: Fair to say [laughing]

Audience: It’s like 70% of the conversations that we have with ourselves, are negative. That we don’t remember that we are divine, so the first thing that came to me was, what about all the people that walk around being in a bad mood or nasty? Well, whatever they are, I say to myself we can put them all in a continuum, that there is divinity in all of us, is that we all have?

Barbara: Exactly.

Audience: That we all have unpeeled that onion.