Ideal in the West

The weather experts tell me more rain is on the way. This morning I heard a heavy dose of it on the skylight, although none through the night. Californians have been put into a mode of anxiety over the ongoing drought, but now there seems to either be light at the end of the tunnel, or the tunnel has gotten shorter. For the moment, the wetness all around fills us with promise of spring blossoms and summer drinking water in our taps.

I have been reading Dave Beardsley’s “The Ideal in the West”. I saw his book being advertised while I was looking over the website, which contains most of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings for free download. Being an English literature major, I’ve always admired the New England Transcendentalists, and wanted to go back sometime to study their message more carefully. Beardsley’s book identifies some of the major influences throughout western civilization that influenced Emerson, as well as the other transecendent ones.

I have already read Emerson’s excellent biography “Mind on Fire”, by Robert Robertson, and most of Richard Geldard’s works, including “The Spiritual Teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson”. I continue to read this Geldard book once or twice a year, always finding new insights in it. The Beardsley book begins with pre-Socratic Greek philosophers and moves forward slowly in time to show how their ideas have influenced thinking up into our modern times, including the recent work of Eckhart Tolle–who Beardsley considers to be an idealist.

The Ideal is the ultimate reality, which is imperceptible to our senses. For a few years I questioned whether or not I had a soul, whether such a thing existed or was a poetic invention. My doubts came from listening to modern materialist philosophies, who argue for a universe with no underlying plan or meaning to it. Beardsley’s book is full of quotes and glimpses into the thinking of Idealists, who say just the opposite.

Nowadays the term “soul” is being changed or updated for words like “spirit” or “consciousness”, but I find Beardsley’s book interesting in seeing how this ancient Greek concept has come to us moderns, as well as the interplay that has gone on between Greek and Judeo-Christian cultural ideas. I suppose it has been a hobby or reading interest for me. Emerson felt it was his life purpose to look for the ideal. Here’s an Emerson quote I lifted out of Beardsley’s book:

“…my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed…”

Emerson’s use of language is always obtuse and difficult to read. His work represents a hunt for understanding the nature of reality. A vast amount of literature has been written on the subject, and not much has been settled, even since his time. Further reading lies ahead for me on this wettest day of the year. I wonder what else might come to me from the sky.

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