Learning to live can only be taught by those who actually have lived, deep down, inside, squeezing out the last drops of life. Such a one was Henry David Thoreau.
He was a doer as well as a thinker. He disdained writing about something he had not explored to the depths of his ability. I want him to teach me to live like that, to write like he wrote, to experience life as he experienced life.
The life he wrote about, although he certainly did live it, was also a life lived on the inside, at the soul level, not the outside subjected to the rules of a society he did not respect. He saw fancy furnishing, carriages, over indulgence in all of the senses, as a trap. A trap that he would not get caught up in, a trap that he would avoid at all costs. He much preferred his own society rather than that of his neighbors.
Society in the 19th century saw him as lacking in the fundamental drive to acquire and succeed. His idea of success was to KNOW whereas their idea of success was to OWN. Owning did nothing for dear Henry as he told me in Walden. He had to throw out a rock he had picked up because it was attractive, finding it too much work to move and dust. He decided that he would appreciate rocks and other such beauties in their natural setting where he did not have to take care of them.
And how he lived. He woke before sunrise to catch the moment the light dawned. He ate sparingly of what he could grow or what he could make from the yeast in his pocket and his meager store of flour. He learned to plant and hoe beans for his dinner. And he bartered what he could.
He saw a farm as existing on the back of its owner, not the owner existing on the proceeds of the farm. The tools, the horse, the plow, the house, the fields —- always required the blood and sweat of the owner and he would have as soon been indentured to the most hateful master than face the fate of being a farm owner. Not that he didn’t believe in hard work ………. but he needed to truly live, not work for unrealized profit and not for him to exist only to provide society with the ability to say he was a steady, sturdy man with expectations.
He taught me the reasons he went to Walden to live:
“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 practise 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.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
Powerful lessons from a wise man. Are the men and women who rise on Monday morning, saddened by the need to return to work at a job that provides them with the means to acquire more material goods, to live in a home accepted by society as a worthy structure, to drive a car sanctioned by the multitudes as a luxury vehicle, are they happier, more soul-searching, more content, yes peaceful than was Henry David Thoreau? I think not. I think they are desperate.
I remember the dread that would fall on me on a Sunday night, needing to go out into society the next day and either earn my keep or learn to live a life of plain vanilla in the world. I remember the many possessions I purchased on the back of that dread, with the days of despair, working away at a job I thought pointless so that I would have the dollars and cents (but no sense) to pay for my place in the world. A place I did not want to be.
I remember the casual comments thrown at me, said with a smile, but obviously meant, when those around me would deem what I had or who I was not to be good enough for them. I remember the comments issuing forth from the mouths of children disdaining my father’s occupation as a carpenter when their fathers were professors, doctors and lawyers and how much more deserving than I of what life’s good had to offer. I am saddened now by the import I placed on their words, for they were ignorant of life, of a life lived deliberately, a life lived as if you meant it.
Dream teacher, dream writer, liver of dreams, yes I would choose Henry David Thoreau as my dream teacher, even as I am able to read what he left as a record of his life, I am sure there is much more that he had no chance to write down and more about truth that I could learn from him.