Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cosmic Consciousness II

Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Illumined by Nature

Journal, April 11, 1834

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Went yesterday to Cambridge and spent most of the day at Mount Auburn [Cemetery]; got my luncheon at Fresh Pond, and went back again to the woods. After much wandering and seeing many things, four snakes gliding up and down a hollow for no purpose that I could see— not to eat, not for love, but only gliding; then a whole bed of Hepatica triloba, cousins of the Anemone, all blue and beautiful, but constrained by niggard nature to wear their last year's faded jacket of leaves; then a black-capped titmouse, who came upon a tree, and when I would know his name, sang chick-a-dee-dee; then a far-off tree full of clamorous birds, I know not what, but you might hear them half a mile. I forsook the tombs, and found a sunny hollow where the east wind would not blow, and lay down against the side of a tree to most happy beholdings. At least I opened my eyes and let what would pass through them into the soul. I saw no more my relation, how near and petty, to Cambridge or Boston; I heeded no more what minute or hour our Massachusetts clocks might indicate— I saw only the noble earth on which I was born, with the great Star which warms and enlightens it. I saw the clouds that hang their significant drapery over us. It was Day— that was all Heaven said. The pines glittered with their innumerable green needles in the light, and seemed to challenge me to read their riddle. The drab oak-leaves of the last year turned their little somersets and lay still again. And the wind bustled high overhead in the forest top. This gay and grand architecture, from the vault to the moss and lichen on which I lay,— who shall explain to me the laws of its proportions and adornments?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, April 11, 1834

PYC's Critique of Emerson's Experience of Cosmic Consciousness:

When Emerson visited the Jardin des Plantes in Paris on July 13, 1833, he was overwhelmed by so much "animated forms,— the hazy butterflies, carved shells, birds, beasts, fishes, insects, snakes, and the upheaving principle of life everywhere incipient... I feel the centipede in me,— cayman, carp, eagle, and fox. I am moved by strange sympathies; I say continually 'I will be a naturalist.'" In this context, Emerson's visit to Mount Auburn Cemetery almost exactly 9 months later (April 11, 1834) was like being reborn as a naturalist. The four snakes gliding up and down a hollow— "not to eat, not for love, but only gliding" is especially meaningful. These are the Western symbols of Mercury's caduceus or Aesculapius' rod of healing. But in Hindu philosophy, the snake gliding up & down a hollow is the awakening of the Kundalini, the serpent energy that rises up the hollow center of the spinal cord (sushumna) that brings spiritual awakening to the yogi. What Emerson is experiencing within his psychic inner self is enacted outwardly in the things he sees in the Cemetery. He "forsook the tombs and found a sunny hollow" to rest himself against a tree. In this state of emptiness, Emerson "let what would pass through them into the soul." And what did he see— no more relationships to space (Cambridge or Boston), no more connection with time (minute or hour), only the Earth and Sun. Emerson is experiencing the mind of Zeus, whether he knew it or not. For Zeus or Jupiter may be considered etymologically as Ju (Jour = Day) + piter (pater = Father = Heaven). Emerson: "It was Day— that was all Heaven said."

[Note: Mind of Zeus = Buddha Mind = Christ Consciousness = God Consciousness; The idea of Ju +piter as "Day Father", "Day Heaven", "Our Father in Heaven" comes from Michel Serres, Rome: The Book of Foundations (1991), pp. 210-213.]

That Emerson experienced Cosmic Consciousness on April 11, 1834 is evidenced by his journal entries on April 12 when he writes: "All the mistakes I make arise from forsaking my own station and trying to see the object from another person's point of view." (Emerson realizes that he needs to be centered like the center-point of a circle instead being a dot on the circumference. Only then will he be one with all the radii.) He also observed “Better not talk of the matter you are writing out. It was as if you had let the spring snap too soon. I was glad to find Goethe say to the same point, 'that he who seeks a hidden treasure must not speak.'” (For plants to sprout they need to incubate below the ground and remain invisible in the dark.) And on April 13, he writes: "Absolve yourself to the universe, &, as God liveth, you shall ray out light & heat,— absolute good." (Emerson is letting spirit of the universe flow through him). "We are always getting ready to live, but never living... the work of self-improvement,— always under our nose,— nearer than the nearest, is seldom seldom engaged in." (Emerson realizes that living in the present moment is the key to life, and that self-improvement begins right here, right now.) Much like the satori poems of Zen masters, Emerson documents his spirtual awakening in his journals. Diligent readers will find many such pearls in the sea of Emerson.

The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Volume IV, 1832-1834, Edited by Alfred R. Ferguson
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1964, pp. 272-275

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