Who Does She Thinks She Is?

I am an old soul. It matters not my age nor my global position; my heart has made a connection with one of the literary greats and I seek to introduce a man that few bother to understand. Henry would probably see me as one of the sillies, caught up too much in the ridiculousness that is modern life, but I desire to take a page from his book and simplify, simplify, simplify!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Let the Bells Ring and the Children Cry

"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."

Those may be some of Henry David Thoreau's most familiar words. Like many passages fromWalden, they have become engrained in our minds, but have we let their true directive become engraved in our hearts, sending us out into our modern world with a renewed course, deliberate determination and stronger resolve?

What did Henry mean when he said he wanted to live deliberately? As I write this I cringe a little. Can you possibly imagine the millions of writing assignments given by harried teachers trying to offer a few Thoreau pearls to indifferent students? And can you imagine most of those dumbstruck students struggling to come up with the requisite paragraph about what it means to "live deliberately?"

But I digress.

Do I live deliberately, with purpose? Do I use my time and resources consciously, or do I allow myself to get carried away by the whims of society, not bothering to think much for myself?

"Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails."

That's the problem.  Every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails are what seem to trip me up and cause me to lose my deliberate focus.

Life is not perfect.  It comes with blips and bumps and challenges that threaten to throw us off the tracks of our best-laid plans. Instead of trying to learn from those challenges and carry on, I tend to view setbacks as catastrophic (when they are not), and feel defeated (when I am not).

Henry seemed to be able to keep these inconveniences in perspective.

"There was a dead horse in the hollow by the path to my house, which compelled me sometimes to go out of my way, especially in the night when the air was heavy, but the assurance it gave me of the strong appetite and inviolable health of Nature was my compensation for this....With the liability to accident, we must see how little account is to be made of it.  The impression made on a wise man is that of universal innocence.  Poison is not poisonous after all, nor are any wounds fatal."

Accidents will happen.  Inconveniences will arise. They will derail us only as we give them permission to.

"Let us rise early...; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry"—I, like Henry, am "determined to make a day of it."

Regardless of the dead horses.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Methinks We Might Elevate Ourselves a Little More

My mind goes instantly to a mouse.  In a maze.  Seeking the cheese with limited resources.  Relying upon his sense of smell, he tries and fails, tries and fails, tries and fails. From the casual observer, the solution is easy.  Climb.  Climb up and maximize your view, your perspective.  Utilize all of your senses and dramatically increase your chances of success.

How often we do the same thing.  We settle into the our small little world, our small little predictable routine, limiting ourselves to what we already know, failing to expand our perspective by elevating our position.

Henry David Thoreau perceived that we limit ourselves to familiarity and safety, and found a solution to increasing his vision.

"We hug the earth, how rarely we mount!  Methinks we might elevate ourselves a little more.  We might climb a tree, at least.  I found my account in climbing a tree once.  It was a tall white pine, on top of a hill; and though I got well pitched, I was well paid for it, for I discovered new mountains in the horizon which I had never seen before--so much more of the earth and the heavens.  I might have walked about the foot of the tree for threescore years and ten, and yet I certainly should never have seen them." (from Walking)

What is it about a vista?  What is so stirring about a distant horizon that awakens something inside of us? How does our becoming smaller, in relationship to our view, draw us closer to the immensity of God? Could it be we are reminded of the miracle of His love for even something or someone as insignificant as ourselves?

Henry's neighbor and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, joined him in his appreciation for the therapeutic nature of, well, nature.

"To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone.  The tradesman, the attorney comes out of the din and craft of the street and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again.  In their eternal calm, he finds himself.  The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon.  We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough."

We must embrace this idea of searching for horizons.  When is the last time you climbed to the top of a mountain?  When is the last time you climbed a tree?  When is the last time you read a book that challenged your mind and your intellect, or endeavored to solve a puzzle, or a riddle, or a persistent annoyance? When is the last time you tied on your walking shoes and set out to breathe in some air not being clamored for by stifling crowds?

I am the first to admit that I spend too much time indoors, and even though I am engaged in productive pursuits, I am limiting myself to the same, the same, the same.

Perhaps it is time, once again, to climb a tree, or a mountain. 

Despite the chance of getting "well pitched," I can't bear the thought of what I might be missing.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

To Be Awake Is To Be Alive!


Wake up!

Yea, you!  Are you awake?

How adept we become at sleepwalking.  We go through our days taking care of the same old business with such frequency and repetition that tasks no longer require our full attention.  We go through the motions using as little gray matter as we can get away with.  Why think when it rarely becomes necessary to do so?

Henry David Thoreau suggested that "only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion."

Ouch.  Can this be so?  I know my college student children would contest that theory--but perhaps active students are those few living contrary to the millions that regularly sleepwalk without exerting themselves.

I know as a homemaker I am very skilled at doing laundry mindlessly.  Dishes, too.  In fact, I have gotten so expert at regular household duties that I could do them blindfolded.  And sometimes it looks as if I do.  Because I take very little interest in my day-to-day tasks, my mind shuts down and settles into power-saving "sleep" or "hibernation" mode.

My best days, then, are when I do unlock the passion and creativity that yearn to be utilized and maximized.  "Little is to be expected of that day...to which we are not awakened by our genius."

Genius is not often given the attention it deserves.  It takes a backseat to fad and fashion; it suffers from underuse as society carries us down the path of least resistence.  Why read a challenging book when mind-numbing pulp fiction floats us down the popular stream, lulling us into a stupor?  Why tap your own reservoirs of thought through meditation and study when it is so much easier to pop in a video?  Or surf the web?  Or check in on facebook?

You see, I am chastening myself.  I cannot point a finger at others without feeling my own guilt.

It is time to wake up; time for me to wake up.  Henry would have us all "learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake."

"To be awake is to be alive!"

Am I alive or merely biding my time?  "Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour."

As we contemplate our stewardships, is our full potential being realized, or are we still asleep?  Do we even bother to pinch ourselves to try and stay awake?

Do we even remember what we did yesterday?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How Near to Good is What is WILD!

Of all of Henry David Thoreau's frustrations with society, perhaps the one that makes me smile the most is his obsession with Wildness.  Our generation envisions those "born to be wild" as certainly anything but unpretentious, solitude-seeking, civilly disobedient poets and naturalists.

Henry's essay entitled "Walking" explores his fascination with and attraction to what is wild.

"Life consists with wildness.  The most alive is the wildest.  Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him."

The problem seems to lie in the subduing then.  It is all in the taming and the controlling and the corraling. In fact, he suggests that "who but the Evil One has cried 'Whoa!' to mankind?"  Do we settle for less when we gravitate towards those things that are modified, tamed, groomed and manicured to fit into our uptight, prim and proper lives? Do we go to the seashore and watch the waves from inside the safety and warmth of a beach house?  Do we observe wildlife from outside the fences and enclosures of a carefully built zoo?

Perhaps he is right.  We imagine ourselves as adventurous when we travel in packs as tourists, being led around by the nose by tour guides, keeping us within the safety of the tame.

Ah, tameness.  The antithesis of wild.  Henry sought to find where the wild things are in every facet of life.

"In literature it is only the wild that attracts us.  Dullness is but another name for tameness.  It is the uncivilized free and wild thinking in Hamlet and the Iliad, in all the scriptures and mythologies, not learned in schools, that delights us....A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wildflower discovered on the prairies of the West or in the jungles of the East." 

Perhaps that is what has drawn me to this unique, eccentric freethinker.  He isn't willing to be confined within the limits of society-imposed manners and acceptable behavior.  He isn't afraid to offend with his outrageousness.  He isn't content to settle for the safety of observatories.

He spent his life getting his feet wet, searching for the Wild.  "I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses this yearning for the Wild.  Approached from this side, the best poetry is tame.  I do not know where to find in any literature, ancient or modern, any account which contents me of that Nature with which even I am acquainted."

We all should crave a little outside-the-box wildness.  Conformity and passivity and coloring within the lines are stifling. Let the wind blow our hair.  Roll up our pantlegs.  The Wild won't come to us; we need to seek after it.