Discovering Your Genius(!)

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius. Speak your latent [inner] conviction, and it shall be the universal sense [agreed upon by all].” 

I have the pleasure – and honor – of crafting a comparison for my Foundations of Yoga Studies midterm essay, between Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Self Reliance (introduction referenced above) and the Katha Upanishad,* one of the “principal thirteen” Upanishads which include many essays and poems written by ancient Vedic priests, and is one of the initial documented forms of yoga dating back to ~ 1st century B.C.E. I chose this topic because, remembering an experience in middle school when I was first exposed to Emerson’s Self Reliance (or more accurately, an “Ah-ha” moment), I recall telling people afterwards that it was my “favorite book” (embarrassing) – But, to tell the truth, I don’t remember a thing about it. I’ve heard of comparisons between Vedic [ancient yogic] philosophy and Transcendentalism – i.e. 19th century C.E. Thoreau (Walden) and Emerson (Nature, Self-Reliance) – so why not take the opportunity to revisit an old favorite?

A favorite verse from Self-Reliance, and one that I think aptly captures the key similarities between Transcendental and Yogic philosophy, is:

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense.”

Although I have an obvious bias – really, more of a crush on – well-crafted rhetorical persuasion as a student of politics, something about these words resonates with me on a deep and profound level. And, as Emerson states above, he would bet that this resonance has the potential to strike everyone the same way, as “is true for all men,” we’re innately and equally capable of harnessing our inner “genius” (or in yoga philosophy: your personal truth or [big-S] Self). “Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense.” I read this as a command – and think it should end with the proper exclamation(!). With Emerson toting a blue-ribboned ponytail and GW-type swag, balking back on his horse, I imagine him saying, perhaps with a megaphone: “Go forth! And be, unapologetically, you!” Trust your gut! He says. It sounds so simple, but its difficulty is revealed when we take a moment to sincerely consider how we are (what we think, do, say) on a daily basis. Going through the motions of work, school, homework, meetings and travel – it’s easy to get swept away with the current and fall into a routine. But, when you pay closer attention to your interactions and thoughts throughout the day, how many times do you say something or agree with something simply out of habit or ease? (When in truth, it may have been in opposition with your true “gut.” That’s alright, we all do it!) It’s easier, even habitual at times, to “just get through” the day. But if nothing else, it’s interesting to consider how we might be inadvertently stifling our own voice, and succumbing to negativity in this process. Emerson’s advice: Trust Thyself.  Find your genius in the genuine. Or the modern adapted version: Go forth and be fabulous!

Our thoughts are powerful. Last week, I provided some insights into the “Yoga & Neuroscience” and want to share another related concept. For every negative thought we hear or think, it takes five positive thoughts to get back to normal/neutral from the resulting mood imbalance – just like momentary depression. This is scientifically proven as an evolutionary survival reflex, and is referred to as our innate “negativity bias.” (More on negativity bias here.) I mentioned last week, that thoughts – according to neuroscientists – are actually a group of connected neurons in the brain, that together form a single thought or idea. Repetition of the same idea or thought over-and-over strengthens this connection, so the more often we think (or say) something, the more likely we are to think it again. Considering this, and considering how much – scientifically speaking – a single negative thought brings us down, it’s apparent that its advantageous for our well-being to pay attention to what’s going on in our noggin. When we start to recognize our own internal “negativity bias,” we can begin to change our thoughts from a predominantly negative to a positive spin, or worldview. And, the good news is, just as negative thoughts strengthen and recur with repetition, so do positive thoughts. (All thoughts follow this rule – What have you been thinking about a lot lately?)

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense.” 

Trust yourself (and treat yourself)! Be open to hearing yourself out and making yourself heard. Stay positive, especially when it’s difficult, because you’re creating a path to follow in the future. And seeking what’s easy is understandable, but living your truth is genius! (Just sayin’…) This is also, living in yoga.

Emerson has inspired my week, having set the intention to live by his motto: “Trust thyself.” In recalling the negative thoughts which have occupied my mind lately, it’s clear that my own doubt and fear (the antithesis of trust) are most at fault. Once we get passed this depressing duo, or overcome our negativity bias, how many more positive thoughts will we think? How happy can we be? I intend to find out. What’s your intention this week?

With love,
Amy

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*Katha Upanishad (pronounced in Sanskrit: “Kat-a,” like Immanuel Kant without the “n”)

In case you want more on negativity bias:

– Dr. Rick Hanson discusses the neuropsychological basis for “Confronting the Negativity Bias” as an evolutionary survival tactic, and how to overcome it.

– Check out this NY Times article which discusses the importance and benefits of overcoming your “negativity bias,” and its impact at work and in your everyday life.

^ Excerpt: “The more you’re able to move your attention to what makes you feel good, the more capacity you’ll have to manage whatever was making you feel bad in the first place. Emotions are contagious, for better or worse. It’s your choice.”

Photo Credit: Personal photo of a surf(bill)board outside a cafe in the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.