“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.”
American essayist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden; Or, Life in the Woods” from 1854 is an example of a book that was published nearly two centuries ago and still arouses reverberation today; a book that time again resurfaces. Why? Because it challenges the “common paths” of life and reveals fundamental, universal “truths” about human life that are unaffected by shifting trends and consumer leanings.
As Thoreau went out into the woods and lived in a simple cabin near Walden Pond, Massachusetts over the course of two years, two months and two days, he reflected on how to live a good, fulfilling, non-materialistic, and self-sufficient life. The book is still experienced as current, albeit its somewhat outmoded language, because it deals with something as essential as the good life. It holds universal observations on what it means to be a human being, and what it means to live a continuously satisfying life. The fact that the tiny house movement is currently embracing the exact same approaches to living a meaningful life underlines Walden’s endurance. Furthermore, Walden constitutes an example of a showdown of existing assumptions or “truths”. Thoreau confronts and negates assumptions on everything from the wisdom of elderly people to the “no pain, no gain”-doctrine, because, as he states: “It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.” And he continues: “I have lived thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of value or even earnest advice from my seniors.” (Thoreau “Walden” 1995, p. 5).
Seeley Lake, Montana, July 2017
Thoreau’s defined purpose of downscaling and leaving society’s requirements and (materialistic) norms behind is his wish “… to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life…” (Thoreau “Walden” 1995, p. 59). Living deliberately to Thoreau means simplifying life in order to limit “noise”, or his main goal for simplifying life and minimising expenses is to gain more time for studying – not for lounging his days away (elsewhere in the book, he describes, how he actually at times forces himself not to read or write, but to just be sensuously present, but that this requires a conscious effort). “For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the labor of my hands, and I found, that by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living. The whole of my winters, as well as most of my summers, I had free and clear for study.” (Thoreau “Walden” 1995, p. 45).
On the following page, Thoreau continues: “Some are “industrious” and appear to love labor for its own sake or perhaps because it keeps them out of worse mischief; to such I have at present nothing to say. Those who would not know what to do with more leisure than they now enjoy, I might advise to work twice as hard as they do, – work till they pay for themselves, and get their free papers.“ (Thoreau “Walden” 1995, p. 46). In other words, if you have no idea what to do with your leisure, you might as well work! Or perhaps, working will make you feel better about relaxing or doing whatever you want; perhaps it will make you feel that you are “allowed” to enjoy, apropos the mentioned “no pain, no gain”-doctrine. Unless you have purpose with leisure, it seems aimless, pointless or indifferent.
Basically, I view Thoreau as a “spokesman” for being passionate about something, whether that something being studying, writing, running, skateboarding, programming, drawing, cooking or teaching for the sake of the area of interest itself, not merely because the activity is profitable. Without passion, life lacks fulfilment and authenticity. Without passion life lacks purpose.
So, find your passion! And pursue it by all means.