In Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson sought to explain his own philosophical theories about the place of people in the universe. In the Introduction, he explains that he sees "nature" as everything separate from a person's inner sense of their own individuality - not only trees, rocks, and streams, but other people, works of art, and even one's own body. Emerson asserts that we can answer all our questions about life, the universe and one another by directly experiencing nature.
Emerson begins Chapter 1 by recommending that one "go into solitude." To do this, he says, you have to get away not only from other people, but also from your own house and experiences: "I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me," he says.
To find solitude, Emerson recommends that one go outside and contemplate the stars, which "give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime." Other natural scenes, like flowers, animals, and mountains, can also "awaken a certain reverence."
This state of reverence, says Emerson, is essential to understanding the fundamental unity of all things, including the unity of one's own soul with the rest of the universe. Yet while most children can enter this state naturally, most adults have lost the ability to enter this state, Emerson claims.
If one can enter that state of reverence with nature, however, one can find "a perfect exhilaration" within it, a "return to reason and faith." In nature, says Emerson,
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.
By spending time in contemplation of nature, says Emerson, one loses the sense that one is somehow separate from the world. Instead, one becomes absorbed with the joy of knowing one is part of the whole. This joy, however, isn't produced by nature alone or by one's own view of nature alone; rather, it resides "in a harmony of both." In other words, the site of that joy or reverence in nature is in the intersection between nature itself and a human being contemplating their own place in the natural order.