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TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

Crocoite

Nature/life has made each one of us unique, in looks, personality, voice, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, intentions, hopes, and memories. Nature/life has produced variety as a characteristic of being human. Not only is each person unique, but he or she cannot be otherwise. You can only be the unique person that you are. You can learn from other people, but what you learn you use in your own way. No one can feel what he or she doesn't feel or believe what he or she doesn't believe. You are exactly the way you are and not the least bit who you might wish you were. When you are attacked by envy, you can say, "No two people are the same. You are not like that [other person]. You can only be the person you got." By so doing, you focus on your unique self, not on comparisons with other people.

The self is something special. It is not a part of a mind or a body. Rather, it stands above, in touch with mind and body but taking precedence over them. It is the director, the will power that we exert from instant to instant as we live our lives.

A thriving self is basic to mental health. When we have self-confidence and self-respect, we thrive. When we suffer from self-doubt, shame, and/or guiltiness, we get in the way of self-expression. We are then in mental ill-health.

Click here to see the Dimensions of Existence diagram.

A supermarket is a good place for studying individuality. Every person's looks, manner, and dress are very different from every other person's. The unique choices of foods that people make can easily be seen. After only a minute or two of shopping, each person can easily identify his or her own shopping cart and see how unique each other person's is. By the time a person gets to the check-out counter, the differences in choices are even greater.

Although we want to be pleasing to people, we need not try to be so to the point where we are pretending to be someone we are not. If you are not an extrovert, for example, you are not an extrovert, and you are still equal. Respect what the processes of life have provided for you. Those who want to make you something you are not (and cannot be) are at fault for being uncompassionate. They see human beings in a limited way, wanting conformists rather than individualistic persons.

You can consider how fascinating it is to be unique and different. You can take pleasure in differentiating yourself from other people. You can consider learning more about your individuality - what you can do, what and whom you like, and what you want, all of it part of the enormous complexity that is you. When you look down on yourself, you look down on a product of creation. In looking down on yourself, you are confusing some disliked characteristic with your whole self. Taking the larger view, you can only respect this magnificence that is a human being. As Nietzsche said, "At the bottom every man [and woman] knows well enough that he [or she] is a unique human being, only once on this earth, and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is ever be put together a second time."

Since you are complex beyond even your most complex knowledge and most detailed imagination, you can take it as a challenge to let the processes of life operating in you have their way. Each of us is fortunate to have direct contact with one of the amazing creatures of the universe. We can, by being authentic, show it respect. You are in Nature/life not as someone you might be or should be but as someone you are. Life gives its blessings freely when you take it just as it comes in all its variety and richness. You do not turn away from it because of the shocking harm it does. Rather, you turn toward it, finding in it marvelous benefits along with disappointments and sorrows.

The processes of life operate continuously, in the present, presenting you with new circumstances almost minute to minute. All one's discoveries about life come as one lives them, now. Bad feelings generated in the past were possibly appropriate in a former time but are no longer appropriate. You can, with effort, learn to relegate them to the past. Once you do so, you can live creatively, dealing with what is new. When you live creatively in the present, having suffered in the past is irrelevant. You do not have to be attached to the past.

Compassionate, you can realize that no one is at the center of existence. Any person has as much right to his or her own life as any other. In addition, we are responsible for living our own life.

Astronomers tell us there is no center of the universe. They say that the universe grew like cells grow, by division, so that something of the original cell is in every cell in the organism. Just as there is no original cell, there is no center. Subjectively, however, there is a center. Each person looks out on the universe from this center. Everything in the universe is counted from this center - you are a certain distance from your neighbors and a certain distance from town. Things are in front of you, on the side of you, or in back of you. Everything that occurs in the universe occurs in relationship to your position in the center. Subjectively, where you are is the center, and there is no other center. Subjectively, you are of first and foremost importance. No place is more important, no person more important.

Here at the center, you experience two kinds of reality - known reality, which is the reality within the ken of your senses, and presumed reality, which is the reality that you know about but don't currently experience. When practicing breathing or walking meditation, the person focuses on known reality, the reality he or she experiences here and now. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, the little things are infinitely the most important. Furthermore, the more significant known reality is, the less significant presumed reality becomes. When we live the life of the senses, we live primal life, which we share with all sentient creatures. It is in this condition that insight and understanding arise. Our culture does us a disservice when it elevates the life of the mind above the life of the senses.

We also live primal life when we recognize that life is continuously changing. The senses are short lived. Sight and hearing are especially short lived. When we read, for instance, the visual impressions of the words that we read change many times a second, and the same can be said when we listen to music or to someone talking to us. The mind gathers sense impressions together into meaningful wholes, but the parts are fast changing. Our tendency is to overvalue the gatherings of the mind and to undervalue the sense impressions as they occur. (The mnid clonouitunsy cteraes oedrr out of cahos. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, olny taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pcleas. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm.)

People that are easily distracted undervalue known reality and overvalue presumed reality. Although each is at the center of existence, they don't feel at the center. Knowing that some people are, objectively, more important in some dimension than they are, they sometimes focus on objective importance, ignoring the fact that, subjectively, they are of first and foremost importance. In any effort to gain self-respect, a person must consider the fact that he or she is at the center. It is both your right and your obligation to be at the center so that you care properly for this amazing colony of cells of which you are the leader. When you accord more importance to another person than to yourself, be it a spouse or a child or anyone else, you show disrespect to yourself.

Not only are you at the center, but it is impossible for existence to be otherwise. You must be at the center, and only you can be at the center. You know of life only what you know of life, from inside. You are the head of only one mind and body. You have direct access only to your consciousness and no other. Any wish you have to experience the consciousness of another person is hopeless. You can only be who you are in these few cubic feet of the universe at this time of this make-up and inheritance and upbringing and personality and character.

There is a story of two persons who were dying of thirst in a desert. One of the two had a glass of water that could save only one of them. The philosopher telling the story asks, "Should the person drink the water to save himself or herself, or should the person give the water to the other person?" The philosopher advises, "Each person has a primary obligation to his or her own life. Your life is your first responsibility. Drink the water yourself." This advice respects each person's life. You are responsible for a magnificent creation. Who you think you are is only a small portion of who you really are. The colony of cells that you head is greater than you know. You are its only direct custodian.

It might be said by some that this way of thinking is selfish. Selfishness, however, shows disrespect of others. When you are selfish, you serve yourself at the expense of others. When you respect yourself, on the other hand, you show respect toward yourself without showing disrespect toward others. If you were to sacrifice yourself, you would show disrespect toward yourself. In the story, the philosopher advises against self-sacrifice, but there is no disrespect shown toward the other person.

Since you are at the center of existence, your values are at the center. When troubled by the effects of being excluded, for instance, you can remind yourself that you believe what you believe, regardless of cajoling, persuasion, belittling, and scorn. As a person at the center, you conform to social conventions only if you do so without self-sacrifice. When people say that you are "supposed" to do this or that, think twice. Objective judgments do not exist. All judgments are subjective.

As an exercise in seeing yourself at the center of existence, you can switch your perspective so that you see yourself alone at the center rather than as a member of any group. In a population of one, everything is normal, since there are no group standards against which to judge yourself. No matter who you are or what you are like, you are normal when you are alone at the center. It is as if you were alone in the universe and were asked by some heavenly voice, "What is the nature of human kind?" You could only answer for yourself. Everything you would say about yourself would be the nature of human kind. Seeing yourself in this perspective, you can say to yourself, "You are alone at the center of existence free of references to other people. Who you are is your human nature. In this population of one, you are normal. You are this way and no other." If you habitually compare yourself with others, you should make note of it: "You are comparing yourself."

Knowing that you are an expression of Nature/life, you can stand up for yourself. In such a case, you are standing up not for your small ego but for something larger and much more complex. Mature people are naturally interested in themselves. You take sides with yourself in a dispute. You naturally protect your rights and interests. You are interested in being equal with other persons, and you promote this interest in the face of any effort to degrade you.

This natural interest in oneself is closely related to the instinct for survival. Everyone knows the instinct for physical survival. There is also an instinct for the survival of the self. You naturally like what you think and feel, and you want to promote it in the face of any effort to downplay it.

One of my co-workers, Rick, has a good interest in himself. When he did a favor for someone in the office, he was told, "You're a good boy, Rick." His answer was, "What do you mean, I'm a good boy? You make me sound like some kind of dog - 'Good boy, Doggie.' I just rolled over." He was asked, "Don't you like being a good boy?" He said, "No, just a simple 'Thank you' would be better."

In another instance, he was told, "Rick, you do such good work," but this was said jokingly, with a smirk. He said, "I wish you wouldn't smirk when you say that." He was told, "I'm not smirking. I really do think you do good work." He said, "Well, you don't sound sincere. How can I think you mean it when you say it with a smirk?"

The natural interest in oneself can become attenuated by adverse experiences. Such attenuation is common in families. Some families treat their children as servants - the child is asked to fetch things for the mother, who sits in matriarchal ease, or is expected to be a companion to a parent. Sometimes, a parent will lean on the child, complaining to the child about the other parent or looking to the child for compliments. In such a family, the child is taught to have an interest in pleasing family members at his or her own expense. In an extreme case, the person learns to pay little attention to what he or she likes and what he or she wants. He or she becomes like a person described in Who Am I This Time? by Jay Martin (Norton): "I see myself now as a patchwork collection of defenses, tricks, illusions, with no dignity. Now, since the defenses are tumbling and we get nearer to me I get more and more concerned: there isn't a me. The sum total of me is in the illusions, and I'm afraid when we strip all these away, there won't be anything there. I'm just tricks and illusions. Maybe the fact that I speak of 'I' means there is a me, but it's so small it's totally insignificant. I was born and my body grew, but I never did....It's like I died when I was a child - but that's my secret. I came back to fool everybody. Everybody thinks I'm still there - but I do it with mirrors. How deep is a reflection?"

My son, who is a physician, had a patient who seemed to have a very attenuated interest in herself. When he explained to her what was wrong with her and what procedures were necessary, she only answered, "Whatever you say, Doctor." She didn't ask questions or show personal feelings.

Compare this attitude toward oneself with the attitude in a traditional Jewish household. Traditional Jews see themselves as specially chosen, singled out by God. Children are a blessing to be promoted to honor the special privilege of being chosen. In the Jewish household, the self is promoted and honored, worthy of God's special love.

Having an interest in oneself is having an interest in what one likes and what one wants. You see yourself as unique and individual. Consequently, what you like and what you want are unique and individual. Discovering your likes and wants is a fascinating challenge. Do not assume you should or can be the same as other people. Rather, assume you are different. You can learn from others, but what you like and what you want are personal to you. You take the broadest view of what it is to be human - you are always more than who you think you are. You are more than any group you belong to - you are more than being a Christian or Jew, black or white, gay or straight, or man or woman. What you like and want are in their overall configuration different from any stereotypes of any groups you belong to, just as anyone's basket of groceries is different from anyone else's.

When you pay attention to what you like and what you want, you discover that you are enjoying yourself. Enjoying oneself is the opposite of self-sacrifice. It is enjoying one's personality. Standing on your own ground instead of on other people's, you find a balance, which is the natural state of the organism. It is like getting into a warm bed and pulling the covers over your head - you are yourself in your own universe.

Self-compassion ennobles a person to the point where he or she realizes that he or she truly is wonderful. You see that you are worth defending and promoting, in spite of your failings. Seeing that you are wonderful, you can endure your imperfections, allowing them to be.

In the background are the words, "I stand up for what I believe in. I have concluded that I have a right to my opinions, and I stand by that conclusion. My self-doubting side will try to weaken me, but I defend my position."

You justify yourself against prejudice, whether it is against your sex, social class, race, ethnic group, or sexual orientation. The strength of prejudice comes from the false idea that there is indeed something wrong with some characteristic, and you make a stand against buying into it. You can say the words, "You are (male/female), (male/female) is OK, you are equal. You are (white/black/red/yellow), (white/black/red/yellow) is OK, you are equal. You are (straight/gay), (straight/gay) is OK, you are equal." Oppose thoughts of self-doubt that come from the victimizing side of the mind by saying, "I raise you up. You are equal. I push back and, in so doing, square off against prejudice."

Value your self-liking above anyone's dislike, in the face of every complaint, criticism, scorn, prejudice, and rejection. Remind yourself, "Self-liking is not negotiable. It is paramount, above all other values. It is not available to anyone's attack. I depend on myself. I assert my values. I assert my value. I am not a straw in the wind, buffeted by others' disapproval - I stand up for myself in the face of others' disapproval. Who I really am might not be well thought of by others. However, with my understanding of the complexity of human beings and the inevitability of human imperfection, I stand up to those who think ill of me. I, in turn, have a low opinion of their prejudice. I am okay. It is the scorners who are not okay."

Rita stands up for authenticity. In a conversation she had with Susan, Susan complained about a friend who had told her about her miscarriage. Susan remarked that, if she hadn't been told about the pregnancy, she wouldn't have had to put up with the news of the miscarriage. Susan remarked, "Miscarriages are so common in the first few months. It would have been better if she'd kept the news of the pregnancy to herself. Then she wouldn't have had to tell me about the miscarriage." Rita answered, "A friend is not careful. She says what is happening, whether it's good or bad. By telling you everything, she shows that she trusts you, and she shares her life with you. She makes you a friend in bad times, to help, as well as in good times, to enjoy."

You can deliberately assert the rightness of authenticity. You are as you are, not as you wish you were.. It is your self-doubt that undermines your being as you are, that causes you to value others above yourself. Your pretenses are a mask that demeans the magnificence of being a unique human being. You can honor Nature/life itself by being exactly the way the processes of life have provided for you to be. You can take a stand against acquiescing to others' shaming and in favor of promoting your interests as a unique, independent human being.

It's a good feeling not to feel defensive. In November we got an early snow, which covered everything. I went out to shovel it, but it was like slop, so I put the shovel away, figuring that it would melt. Overnight the temperature dropped and the slop froze hard as a rock, so when Rita drove out of the garage, she got stuck. I was in the shower and didn't hear her spinning her wheels. For ten minutes she gassed the car and rocked it. The tires were burning up, and she was in a sweat because she was late for work. Finally, she got me, and I couldn't believe the mess she'd made. She'd taken trash and twigs and had stuffed them under the tires, which had thrown them all over the driveway.

I saw all this and how she'd worn ruts in the ice, and I said, "I can't believe you're so stupid. You're going to ruin the car." I got some sand and got the car out of the rut, and off she went, but that evening when I got home she was in bed with a sour face. I said, "What's the matter with you?" She said, "Nothing." I said, "You don't look like nothing," and she said, "I don't like being called stupid." At this point I was humoring her, knowing I shouldn't have called her stupid, so I said, "Well, are you stupid?" She said, "No, I'm not stupid. You're stupid. You're stupid five different ways. If you'd gotten the driveway shoveled, I wouldn't have had all that trouble." I said, "Well, that's all right, I can be stupid," and she said, "Well, you are stupid." Things loosened up, and later I heard her singing to herself.

In another instance I was on the phone with John, who was in charge of an eleven-country study on the use of credit cards. I was working on the data processing for him. John had originally thought that he wanted the report to show the figures for each country, but then he'd decided to group the eleven countries into five regions. I said, "OK, but let's go over which countries are in which regions."

John: "I thought it was OBVIOUS."

I: "We're a little stupid over here. You have to explain everything exactly or we don't get it."

In another instance, Lisa, from the same company as John, called about tables that had been corrected the week before. Did I remember them? I said, "Lisa, I don't right now have a clear memory of them. Tell me more." She said, "You must remember them. You corrected them just last week." I said, "Lisa, I don't remember right now, but maybe I will if you fill me in some more." She said, "They are the tables where the lines were adding to more than 100%, and you said something was wrong with the computer program." I said, "Yes, I remember that. What pages were the tables on?" She said, "Do you mean I have to go through all that again? I don't have time for this. I can't believe you don't have all this in mind." I said, "Lisa, do you think I'm being purposely difficult? I'd like to have it all in mind, but I just don't happen to." She said, "Really, this is ridiculous." I said, "Now you're being insulting, and you have no cause to be. I am not trying to frustrate you." At this, she calmed down, and we proceeded more rationally.

What we sometimes shame or blame ourselves for can be extremely trivial and minor. Because we connect it to our view of self, it takes on major dimensions. Harriet, for example, got into a bad mood at bowling because of her low score, as if doing well at bowling was really important. Looked at in perspective, it really wasn't important - she is only an occasional bowler. A similar point was made in a skiing newsletter in a column called Miss Northfield's Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior on Cross-Country Skiing Trails:

Q. Dear Miss Northfield: My boyfriend takes me cross-country skiing, but I'm a beginner, and we're having some problems. I think I'd really like it if only we didn't end up on trails named "Jawbreaker" and "Cliffside." What should I do? --Human Pretzel

Dear Human Pretzel: Cross-country skiing is fun on trails that match your ability. Head to "Fanny Hill" and "Fuller's Pasture," even though your boyfriend hides behind his turned-up collar. You'll learn more quickly when you're comfortable with the terrain, and then you can move to more challenging trails. P.S.: Please pardon Miss Northfield's unusually blunt advice, but ditch the boyfriend if he can't swallow his pride and help you have an enjoyable and safe time. --Miss Northfield

The chief reason a person gets defensive is that, when other people challenge him or her, he or she feels weak (inferior). One popular challenge is, "How do you know that?" "Well, I don't really know it for a fact, but . . ." "Ah ha, you don't know what you're talking about." Ignoring the basic truth that everyone has a right to his or her own opinion, the challenger thinks he or she has won if you can't support your point as a fact.

In the fall I spent a lot of time fixing up the yard, raking off leaves and trimming shrubs. I like to put down lime, because of the acid rain. I lugged five big bags of it from the store and tried to spread it with my spreader, but it caked, apparently from having gotten moist over the summer. I decided to fling it around by hand, so I picked up big handfuls and flung them into the air. I really got into it and flung handful after handful, throwing it and jumping around. Before I went indoors, I brushed off my jeans and ran water over my shoes. Inside the house Rita said, "Isn't breathing that lime dust bad for you?" I said, "Every time you eat Tums you eat the same thing." She said, "Eating it is one thing, but breathing it is another. It'll form a crust on your lungs." I said, "There's no harm, I assure you." Then she rejoined by saying, "How do you know that?" Well, I didn't really know it, but I was ready with an answer: "I don't know it for a fact, but I still think it. The lime won't harm my lungs." It's OK if I don't know it. I can still think it.

Rita is good at standing up for herself. Just before Christmas one year she received a phone call from the mother of a classmate of Andy, who at that time was in first grade. "Is this Mrs. Jackson? Are you Andy's mother? This is Mrs. Robinson. You know my son Jeffrey in Andy's class? No? Well, Jeffrey and Andy are in the same class, and there's something I really must bring to your attention. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but I've been talking with some of the other mothers, and we think something should be done. This is the best time of the year for our children, and your son Andy has spoiled it." Rita was listening hard, because, if Andy had done something, she wanted to know it. "What is it Andy did?" "Well, as I said, Christmas time is the best time of the year for our children, and what happened is that Jeffrey came home all upset and said, 'Andy said there isn't any Santa Claus.' Mrs. Jackson, I don't think that's right." Rita let the silence settle in for a moment, and then she said, "Well, is there one?" Actually, she had told Andy not to say anything about Santa Claus. She knew there was a Mrs. Robinson out there somewhere.

Another time, on the opening day of school, Rita was running wild with people lining up at her door, four telephones ringing, and paperwork being piled on her desk. She didn't know what to do first. In the middle of all this the assistant superintendent showed up. Rita said, "What a crush! People are everywhere. This is too much!" The assistant superintendent looked at her coolly and remarked, "Well, when you work like this, you earn your money." Rita rejoined, "I don't know about you, but I always earn my money. Nobody needs this kind of craziness."

Jane, a co-worker at my office, is a person who prefers to be authentic and less highly thought of than to pretend and so be more highly thought of. She would rather not hide the truth about herself, even though some people would like to shame her into it. From the time she first arrived at our office she didn't hide the fact that she was living with a roommate, not a housemate, even though they live in a house. Her roommate's name is Sally. Jane's openness has caused some problems for her son, Dane. One of Dane's friends stopped playing with him because the boy's mother didn't like Dane's talk about Jane's lesbianism. At the office Jane had a lot to say about herself, Sally, and Dane and also about the relationships among them. Because she is so outspoken, there is a lot of talk at the office about how she says too much. I always defend her by saying, "I respect her because she is being authentic."

Taking one's own side is a matter both of reforming one's values and also of speaking up in one's own behalf. In a sense, it is taking God's side and then acting accordingly. It is honoring the amazing creation that is a human being and then encouraging, supporting, and promoting this amazing creation. Along the way, harmful restrictions and limitations that society has taught as proper are dropped in favor of creative living, in which new discoveries are made about one's nature/life. You can think, "I am okay. It is the scorners who are not okay."

Although we have been taught "You have to" and "You must show proper appreciation" and "You must give thought to the needs of others," when we stand up for ourselves we have the option of not having to, not caring, and taking our fair share. These are options that often serve the self. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in "Self-Reliance, "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that he must take himself, for better or worse, as his portion." The same is true of every woman. "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string." "Life only avails, not the having lived." That fact "forever degrades the past." "Discontent is the want of self-reliance. It is infirmity of will. Regret calamities, if you can thereby help the sufferer. If not, attend your own work, and already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them who weep foolishly and sit down and cry for company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with their own reason."

Achieving philosophical maturity is no small thing. When we see how vulnerable some people are to proselytizing, we realize that philosophical naivete is the norm. Some people are ready to believe almost any notion. The person who sees the error in irrationality and who holds to rationality is an unusual person. The scientific thinker is a free person in a way that no dogmatic person can be. We purposely test limits, because we know that they come not from on high but from human beings, like ourselves. We grow in self-knowledge, not bowing to conditioning and dogma but always learning, about ourselves and about our world.

Doonesbury cartoon of a rationalist

Doonesbury Cartoon by Garry Trudeau

Mature people are naturally interested in themselves. They take sides with themselves in a dispute. They naturally protect their rights and interests. They are interested in being equal with other persons, and they promote this interest in the face of any effort to downplay them.

In a person with an abundance of negative thoughts, it is unfortunately true that memory and imagination have been kept in check, because they have seemed to take the side of the negative thoughts - awful memories have come to mind, and nightmares have haunted sleep. Once peace has been made with negative thoughts, however, memory and imagination can be let off their leash - "I give memory and imagination their freedom. I don't fear them the way I used to. I give them free rein."

In this freedom a person does not know what he or she will hear or see. The voices and images come from life itself, out of the processes of life. Life itself is in you and you a part of it, engaged in it. You can listen for its voices. You can seek gifts of new thoughts, feelings, ideas, images, and attitudes in a region beyond your view of yourself. In your traditional view of yourself you know what to expect, knowing, as you think, who you are, but, when you look for gifts beyond who you think you are, you look into a strange territory where you discover more than you had conceived.

I stand in a meadow. The day is warm. The sky is blue, with white clouds almost stationary. Now and then an insect buzzes past. A breeze blows on my face. Among the meadow weeds are daisies, clover, and bachelor buttons, whose bright blue rivals the sky's. I smell the warmth and sweetness. Everything is still except the insects and the rustle of the breeze. Wild roses, farm house, puffs of dust kicked up on the road, dust on the weeds, the broad view of the hills, a path winding through clusters of laurel. Each moment has its own kindness. This chair, this light, this sound, this room, all have their sweetness.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in her book Cross Creek (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek (N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942), 340 ff.) expressed similar thoughts:

I take my dog for a walk up the road at sunset and the wind blows in our faces. I turn back to walk westward home as the red sun drops behind Orange Lake. The dusk comes quickly and we turn in at the gate and shut the house door behind us and drop down in front of the hearth fire in the living room.

A fresh log of fatwood thrown on the slow-burning bed of oak coals catches and blazes and roars up the big chimney. The flames light the old white-walled room so that there is no need even of candles, though one or two over the bookshelves are always pleasant, for candlelight on books is one of the lovely things of this world. The ruby-red velvet Sleepy Hollow chair glows in the firelight. The dog groans for comfort and turns his belly to the heat and stretches out his paws in the ultimate luxury. Only a hunting dog or cat can share man's love of the open fire, and if I had a whole kennel full of dogs, on winter nights I should let them all come in to enjoy mine with me.

Sometimes the dog and I go together for our supper to the old-fashioned kitchen where the wood range still glows and is warm and the fire box blinks a red eye in the dusk. Because we like the clean bare snugness of the room and the bland heat of the range, we often sit beside it when we have finished our bread and Dora's rich milk, and converse together, wordlessly. We drowse and nod and try to decide whether it would be more pleasant to go back to the living-room fire or to go to bed. On the bitter nights, the dog is allowed to sleep inside by the fire, and after his day's hunting he knows no greater delight or security.

In the morning the red-birds sing in the crisp air and someone, perhaps Martha, comes to my bedroom and lights a blazing fire on the hearth for me, and when the room is warm I have my tray of coffee, with cream as yellow as buttercups and so thick it must be spooned into the cup, and I lie and watch the aromatic wood burning and think, "What have I done to deserve such munificence?"

Life is always new. Living each moment for itself, you are free of the "old man" or "old woman." You were fearful and ashamed, but you are not now fearful and ashamed. You were full of hostility and guiltiness, but you are not now hostile and guilty. You sense an undertone of kindness: "I protect myself from fear and shame, hostility and guiltiness. I defend myself against their teasing. I am safe. No one is attacking or intruding on me. I am at the center of existence. No one is as important as I. I am completely devoted to my welfare. I love myself. I elevate myself into the present."

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