Walden: America's legacy of spirituality

March 24, 2019

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.  I drink at it...Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.  I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars."  -Henry David Thoreau from Economy, chapter one of Walden

 

 Thoreau was teaching the present moment long before Eckart Tolle

     

     Devotion to nature and mysticism was captivated in the late 1880s by the Transcendentalists.  Henry David Thoreau wrote, "God himself culminates in the present moment...And we are enabled to apprehend what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us."  Thoreau foresaw the most popular spiritual teachings of the current age-- the present moment which needs to be savored if only we can let go of the past and stop worrying about the future.  It also amazes me that Thoreau practiced yoga and read the Bhagavad Gita while at Walden.

 

    In essence, Thoreau's experiment at Walden was a respite from the hamster wheel of materialism.  The wheel represents the constant striving for the next big thing that will finally make us happy.  Having desire is a beautiful aspect of the human condition, but Thoreau didn't let his mind run so much in the muck that he forsook the beauty of the natural world around him.  Thoreau cherished the morning so much that he wished he could bottle it up and drink it as a tonic.  From what I gather of Thoreau, he enjoyed friendship as much as any luxury.  He wrote that to look into the eyes of another was itself a miracle.  Perhaps Thoreau's greatest superpower was that he could live in solitude without loneliness.  Many of us stave off loneliness with retail therapy, but Thoreau shoves materialism out the window and lives happier than a prince.

 

Let's not have our precious time here on the planet be hijacked by consumption

 

     I love things, but I am learning to love something deeper in my minimalism experiment.  And this is what I believe Thoreau was trying to teach us:   when we get past the addiction of accumulating objects something else takes the place of the addict's twitch, something that can only be described as peace and profundity.  Here's a brief list of what I have been doing more of:

 

-taking care of finances

-taking care of my children

-learning to say no 

-being happy with what I have to work with now

-creating, creating, creating vs. consuming, consuming, consuming

-diminishing decision making fatigue

 

Post Script:  A couple of days ago, I was walking by a large outdoor shopping center with my son.  It was raining heavily, so we walked under a large awning.  I noticed about 100 feet ahead of me a man sitting against a wall with some bags and two dogs.  I felt apprehensive and considered running in the rain to avoid walking by the man, but we did approach him, and I confirmed that he was a vagabond.  My son, who is four years old, started asking him about his dogs.  Soon the three of us were engaged in conversation.  He was lucid, kind, gentle, and wise. However, the part of the experience that shocked me the most was his uncanny resemblance to Thoreau.  He had bright, piercing blue eyes and Thoreau's long prominent nose.  It was like after all my research of Thoreau these past few months, I had finally manifested a live encounter with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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