Thoreau and Emerson: American Masters of Living Authentically.
Emerson and Thoreau were two great thinkers who taught us a uniquely American way of being true to you and living authentically. Today, we can still learn much from them. Thoreau is best known for his book “Walden,” which recounts how he left the confines of town to go live in a cabin in the nearby woods for two years. We can still visit this place today: Walden Pond is a small lake near Concorde, Massachusetts, where people from nearby Boston flock on a hot summer day to go swimming. There in the parking lot, is a mock-up model of Thoreau’s cabin, truly as small as it can get: one single room smaller than many modern walk-in-closets, a chair, table, cot, and stove. That’s it! When I visited there once, I commented to a bystander how this is really all one needs to live, to which he replied: "Yes, but where is the TV and DVD player?"
Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here? For Thoreau moved into the woods for other reasons than to live frugally. We find this out when we take a short walk from the parking lot to the original site, where we find a wooden sign with one of Thoreau’s sayings:
“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.”
Thoreau wanted to live life fully, and not wake up one day and find out that life had lived him! He wanted to find what mattered to him, and then do it. And he wanted to do it now--not some tomorrow, when he had enough money, for that tomorrow may never come. Thoreau was part of a group of philosophers called the “New England Transcendentalists,” who believed it is our intuition that gives us the ultimate insight into the true nature of things. For that reason, he moved away from the voices of the city, to the solitude of the woods, where he could only hear and find his own voice. And find he did!
“Walden” is all about finding your path; as is the writing of his friend and fellow townsman, the eminent early American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both wrote prominently about knowing who you are, about “Self-Reliance” (one of Emerson’s most famous essays), of being independent from the whims and tastes of society, of being an individual —-but not to rebel against society, but still be a part of it—- and foremost about living on purpose!
And that is really the lesson: to live your life on purpose. To find and give it a direction, and then live after it. Most of us do not do this. Instead of giving life a direction, we only react to its outside forces, bopping up an down on the highs and lows of life like a cork on the ocean. Instead, you must know where your ship must head, and cut straight through the waves of life.
To do that and find your way, you do not have to move into the woods and live as frugally as possible. But you must go on your own Quest, inwardly, to your own voices, find what matters to you, and then live along that purpose! And to my friend in the Walden parking lot: if that includes “a TV and DVD player” is up to you.
My writings, Be True, Be Happy and The Steps of Essence, incorporate not just Thoreau and Emerson, but many other who went on this journey before us, and lay out a systematic approach that I hope you will enjoy and find helpful in your own Quest to be yourself!
Be True! Be Happy!
Copyright © 2009,2010 Hanns-Oskar Porr
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