In Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, first published in 1602, Falstaff says to Pistol: “I will not lend thee a penny.”
Pistol retorts: “Why then, the world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open.”
With weapon in hand, he felt sure he could extract the wealth he desired.
More than 200 years later, Honoré de Balzac* (1799-1850), French novelist and playwright, made claim to these pearls, too, though armed in a different way: “The world is my oyster because I understand it.”
And so it can be with us if we take our understanding of understanding up a notch with the practice of substantive independence.
Indeed, this independence can be our metaphorical sword, our means to fulfillment—to a private and public way of life that will make full use of the body, mind and soul we were given.
However, coming to understand how to live a life founded on the substantively independent point of view does not begin with a blank slate. That is, we must first distance ourselves from the misinformation that clouds our point of view, distorts our perception, compromises our intelligence, and inhibits the causal efficacy of our creative response.
For example, it is commonly believed that the experience of living we all desire naturally emerges in our adulthood. It is presumed to be the payoff of our determination to succeed with our ambitions—ambitions instilled by the omnipresent social ideals of wealth, fame, power and the other all-too-apparent certainties. As such, fulfillment, satisfaction and equanimity are sure to follow. And so, we act accordingly. We go for it.
Unfortunately, while rewarding in its own right, this “success” does not provide the desired experience of living we had thought it would. Inborn fears and desires, and external social aims and ideals that prod, provoke and pressure, keep us on a very short leash.
Further, we rely on the short-term processing of our immediate impressions and remain vulnerable to the unyielding frustration and dissatisfaction that accompany a life not seriously contemplated.
Only through contemplating our lives do we gain the greater understanding of our predicament. Only through our disciplined critical insight is the world our oyster, its pearls and opportunities accessed by our hard-won substantively independent point of view. Only then is an autonomy and life rich in security, generosity and love unreservedly ours to choose and enjoy.
*From A Memoir of Honoré de Balzac by his translator, Katharine Prescott Wormeley
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.