An Excerpt from The Spiritual Teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Richard Geldard

Richard Geldard explores the concepts and ideals Emerson felt were essential for "building up our being." Here is a passage on the spiritual practice of beauty.

"'We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes.'
— Ralph Waldo Emerson in 'Beauty'

"In the Conduct of Life essays, 'Beauty' follows the passage on the great points of culture in 'Considerations by the Way.' The organizing principle of the essay is this: 'Beauty is the form under which the intellect prefers to study the world.' As Emerson saw it, we are interested in relations, in the connection made by the intellect between and among the things of the world, and we have a natural preference for the pleasures of beauty as a means for such study. In addition to preference, however, beauty itself lies in connections. The beauty of the bird is not just in its flight or its feathers but also in its perceived relation to nature and to us. The emphasis, as always in Emerson, is on the laws that govern the existence of the bird. When we study the world, beauty is the gate to the place where the principles can be seen and explored. If we see the beauty, we see the form, and, hence, the principle cannot be far behind.

"The beauty of a thing exists before the mind as a sign of direction. In that sense 'beauty is the pilot of the young soul.' Drawn by beauty, we know we are moving in the right direction. Without beauty as a guide, we cannot know whether or not the direction or influences we are following are positive and life-enhancing. The connection between beauty and simplicity helps us to distinguish between true beauty and that which is deceptively seductive to the senses. True beauty stills the mind and permits the intellect to 'study the world.' The merely seductive, on the other hand, stimulates the mind to distracting activity. It rouses desires in the realm of the banal, leaving us shattered and fragmented."