Back to serious business

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walden; or Life in the Woods

Walden is a book by transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. The text is a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and—to some degree—a manual for self-reliance.

There are however salient details which need be added:

He easily supplies the four necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing, and fuel) with the help of family and friends, particularly his mother, his best friend, and Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

My first impression – or should I say inference – is that Thoreau knew how to work it. Emerson owned the property where Thoreau went on this mission of self-discovery (or what today might qualify as some trendy antioxidant or rehabilitation in a faraway alpine area of California). Pointedly as well the adventure lasted precisely two years, two months and two days. Nonetheless – and barring any acidic speculation about book rights – the issue of how to live meaningful lingers.

The hippie-style reduction is naturally impossible or uncomfortable for many, if indeed not most. What however counts isn’t this particular choice of resort – any more than the decision to be a monk or not is preferable. The distilled question is one of self-fulfillment. The conclusion after all is said and done is that one must listen to his or her own music. What Thoreau does not make clear is that his history of events on Walden Pond are subject to some of the same mysticism as Biblical accounts. Thoreau famously equated features of the Pond to the grail legend and fairy tale. As preposterous as this is, the argument elevates the dignity of the personal pursuit of happiness.

Simplicity is a powerful option.