“This leaves open a vital question: what is your nature once you have rid yourself of history, tradition and religion? What can be said is that it is not self-indulgence, it is not hedonism, it is not narcissism – rather it is the surrender to that force which Emerson recognised back in the Jardin des Plantes: it is obedience to nature itself.
By nature Emerson seemed to mean the natural world – plants, animals, rocks and sky – but what he really meant was God. For Emerson was a Pantheist, someone who believed that God exists in every part of creation, from the smallest grain of sand to a star – but also, crucially, that the divine spark is in each of us. In following ourselves we are not being merely fickle and selfish, but rather releasing a Divine Will that history, society and organised religion have hidden from us.
The individual, as he writes, ‘is a god in ruins’ (CW1 42); but we have it within us, by casting off all custom, to rebuild ourselves. He makes this Pantheist connection explicit in his most famous lines: Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. […] Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”