Agree? In Order to Find Something, You Must Possess It Already

Photo of a mirror in a grassy field reflecting the sky

I often become preoccupied with an idea, and take great pleasure in seeing that idea appear over and over.

One of the ideas that I’ve traced for years is the paradoxical idea — to put it in the most simple terms — that in order to find something, you must possess it already. What exactly does this mean? A koan.

I became preoccupied with this idea after reading a line from Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson. It had great significance for my happiness project, and in fact, I used it as an epigraph for the The Happiness Project. Boswell quotes Johnson remarking:

“As the Spanish proverb says, ‘He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him, so it is with travelling, –a man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.’”

In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil writes:

“Nothing can have a destination which is not its origin.”

From Stephen Spender:

“Travel is an art which has to be created by the traveler.”

Put another way, by Cavafy, in the poem “Ithaka”:

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon — you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Put another way, by Thoreau, in his journal entry from August 30, 1856:

“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord, i.e. than I import into it.”

How about you? Do you have an idea that you look for, everywhere you go? And do you agree that you can only find what you possess already?

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