I’m a teacher. I teach English. Today, I revisited transcendentalism for the umpteenth time. American Lit is not my favorite part of literature, and I’ve never really been a fan of Emerson and Thoreau. My first introduction to Thoreau was back in AP English when one of my summer reading assignments was Walden. Not sure if you are familiar Thoreau and his time on Walden pond, but here is the short summary:
Goes to pond. Lives in shed. Grows food. Eats food. Wanders the woods. Goes back to society.
It was one of the most painful reading experiences I’ve ever had, and I vowed that if I ever became a teacher, I would never make my students read Walden.
Well, I don’t. I do, however, read Emerson with my students. I find Emerson much more palatable and because it is in much more manageable slices, my students can too. He also doesn’t ramble as much as Thoreau, in my opinion. As much as his thoughts are very drawn out and detailed, he always seems to have a point, while Thoreau seems to say the same thing fifteen different ways and never really makes a point. Any Thoreau lovers out there, I apologize for my criticism.
Anyway, today we were reading an excerpt from “Nature”, in which Emerson speaks of the “transparent eyeball” In “Nature”, Emerson says, “I become a transparent eyeball. I know nothing. I see all.” Although I have read this many times, today, for some reason, it really hit home.
In essence, Emerson’s is talking about the fact that as humans, we need to truly be a part of and observe the natural world around us if we are to truly achieve spiritual transcendence–that is transcendence from the mundane of human existence. The transparent eyeball is the eye that absorbs everything it sees and makes it part of itself–seeing everything while at the same time not really know anything, always being in a constant state of wonder.
As my last class left today, I found myself thinking that I no longer have a transparent eyeball, as we all do when we are young. I have allowed myself to think that I know everything about a lot of things, and I have often stopped looking at anything other than what I already see.
I look at my family, but do I really see everything about them? I look at my students everyday, but do I really see them–or are they simply bodies occupying space? I look at myself in the mirror each morning, but am I seeing what is there, or what my mind thinks is there? If I really thought about it, could I tell you with perfect certainty what building is on the left side of the street at the turn that I make when I go to work, or more importantly, can I tell you what it actually looks like?
In our lives, we look, but we don’t always see. As I think about this in myself, I start to think that perhaps this is one of the many reasons for this blog, and for my resolution to fix things in my life. Maybe this is the reason for my long-running mid-life crisis. I have begun to see, and don’t like what I see, so I want to change it.
For homework, I asked my students to observe something in nature. Anything. A tree, the grass, the rain, their pet. And not just look at it, but observe it. Determine what emotions that things creates in them, how that thing affects them. They requested I do the same. As I sat in my front window looking out at my willow tree, I chuckled to myself thinking of my students sitting in their homes, starting at their pets, or staring at a menacing squirrel–their parents shaking their heads and wondering “What are they learning at that school?” As I did my homework, I realized how little attention I have paid to that willow tree over the years. When I stare at, I realized that it makes me happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because it is my favorite tree, and my DH planted it for me at this house not long after we moved in. Sad, because it reminds me of happier times gone by, and I wonder if he will ever do something like that for me again. Happy, because it is tall and strong, and it reminds me of the kind old lady who lived across the street who was so happy to see a willow back at our house (apparently, one had been destroyed in a hurricane years before). Sad, because it is winter, and it looks so barren and forlorn with no leaves, its skeletal branches bare to the wind. It makes me feel cold. I cannot imagine my home without it, but I realize that I barely acknowledge its existence.
As I finished my homework, I realized how true Emerson’s words are. By truly observing the natural world that is around, I was affected–emotionally and spiritually. I looked at my life in a different way. I thought about things differently. I realized how amazing that tree is and how much it is a part of my life and my families’ life. While I am far from a transparent eyeball, I can see his point, about obtaining transcendence and peace by simply existing and allowing the world to exist for you, fully and completely.
I am excited to see what my students come up with.