Years later, Walden still shows the importance of disconnecting from a connected world…
“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.”
So writes Henry David Thoreau in Walden, an 1854 novel depicting the author’s time of solace and self-exploration in the woods of Massachusetts. Thoreau lived alone for over two years, relying solely on his own labor to survive.
In Thoreau’s words, “Most men…through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.” A modern translation: we become so obsessed with the minutia of life that we fail to see the big picture.
If, in 1854, this was something that Thoreau worried about, how worried would he be today?
We live in a society that is practically inescapable. From the second we wake up to the second we fall asleep, we are inundated with text messages, emails, phone calls, and notifications. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. And because it’s so overwhelming, we risk losing the distinction between what is a precious moment of life and what is distracting.
How do we overcome this? How does one, in the words of Thoreau, escape to “live deliberately?”
Know your goals.
If, at the end of 2019, you were disappointed in what you accomplished, then were you really living deliberately? Did you know what you wanted to achieve? If so, then why did you not achieve it?
Take an hour to write down your goals. These can be personal, financial, academic, athletic — but, above all else, they are your goals.
Some goals may seem unattainable. But, as Thoreau wrote, “Man’s capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any precedents, so little has been tried.”
So know your goals. Put the list in a place where you will see it daily. Live with those goals in your mind, for you have not yet measured your own capacity.
Know where you are spending your time.
One of the driving forces in Thoreau’s quest was his wish to eliminate any wasted time. The author “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
How does one reduce life to its lowest terms? With the influx of information that we constantly face, we tend to lose time. Moments slip by unheeded, hours pass by without notice, days travel by with unceasing monotony. Before we know it, our year is gone. The unstoppable passage of time marches on.
We may not be able to stop time, but we can make the most of each second. To do that, we need to be diligent about where each second is going.
Throughout the day, ask yourself — is this what I need to be doing right now?
Only then, after a conscientious accounting of time, will one be able to live deliberately.
Make time for yourself.
In the midst of the New Year, with the rush to achieve resolutions and accomplish goals, we can easily get lost in our own pursuits. But if we fail to make time for ourselves, we will fail to achieve our goals.
Set aside one day each week for you. It can be for anything — to read a book, take a nap, relax, do yard work, spend time with loved ones — but it should be your time. You are in control of those moments. They are yours to live, so live them wisely.
Living deliberately takes action. It is a decision to live your life with a certain mindset, each and every day. It may not be easy, but it is worth it. If anything else, Thoreau’s work is evident of that fact.
If we fail to live deliberately, the consequences may be dire. In our failure we may unwittingly participate in Thoreau’s greatest fear: that, when it is time to die, we discover that we never truly lived.
© Aaron Schnoor 2020