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 did not live long enough. He was only 45 when he died. But Thoreau did live, truly live, and he was a success.
I have often found his work inspirational in my own quest to live life deliberately. I do want to live my life fully, right down to the bone. I want to know life and to know how to blend the real with the unreal. For those of you who read this blog, you will know that the unreal is the world we see. The real is beyond words.
While thinking about Walden this morning, I thought also of success. In Thoreau’s time, he was considered unsuccessful. He didn’t have much and what he had didn’t impress anyone. At one point in the book he talks about putting a rock in his cabin on Walden Pond, just to look at. He found he had to keep cleaning that rock. He threw it out because just moving and cleaning that rock was too much work.
Thoreau was a thorough success in my eyes. Although the “world” did not agree. We all know how success is defined in the world. They always involve things. Things like wealth, a prestigious job, homes and expensive vacations. Success also means, in our culture, that you can buy whatever you want. Designer clothes, bags, shoes, cars, jewelry – all of the things that announce to the world that we have “made it”.
From my reference point, success is none of these. Success is simply not doing one thing in my life that I don’t want to do. It is not selfish, nor is it isolationist. It is simply a fact.
I don’t have things that announce to the world that I have made it. I still do have too many things. Things that I have paid way too much for in terms of spiritual growth. I have things that have caused me worry and anxiety. Things that require that I stumble and stew about how to pay for them. Things that do not bring me happiness at all.
These accoutrements of success move true success away. True success lies in the realm of the real. And reality is a sea of complete peace. Absolute stillness is only possible if one can tame fear, anxiety, guilt and stress.
Being able to tame fear and anxiety comes from an ability to provide for yourself and your family. It is hard in our world to do this. People are working for minimum wages and are still in poverty. If you cannot eat, you cannot find peace. And the people who employ them at a wage for which they cannot survive, have all the marks of success.
While living inside myself and keeping the unreal world at bay as much as I can, I still struggle knowing that I must provide a level of sustenance for myself and my family. There are basic needs such as food, shelter and warmth. Just providing these is almost impossible.
I hear on the news (which I must stop listening to) that millions, if not trillions, of dollars are being spent on things by our government that seem inexplicable. Like farm subsidies being paid to dead people or expensive parties for government agencies, to name a few. Or expensive trips for our “leaders” and the purchase of all sorts of things to run the government.
But still 4 out of 5 adults live in poverty in the US. Although I am not at what the government considers the poverty level, I am close. I struggle to pay bills, utilities and to buy food. The bane of my existence since my husband’s retirement has been paying for heating. Being from the midwest, where natural gas is the main heating fuel, it never dawned on me that in Canada and New England, home heating costs would eat more of my budget than food or a car. But it does.
In order for us all to be successful and live lives filled with peace – every day – every minute – we have to find a way to live deliberately. In a word, aimlessly. Having no purpose at all except to live in the moment.
How to blend the unreal with the real? How to live in the world that we must and yet at the same time live where we can only live – in the present moment? The only guide I can give you is this – just live in the moment ANYWAY. Whether or not you have enough on which to survive. Live as if you do in every moment you are here. And then these words from Thoreau will show you how to do this:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For