Walden, or How To Lead a Life of Personal Freedom and Self Awareness

July 7, 2009 § 7 Comments

walden

Having the spare time to read is a blessing. With only one module left to clear and a month left to graduation, I found myself readjusting priorities and asking myself questions like “What is it I really want? What are my values? Where do I head off from here?” While I’m not expecting any quick-fixes or simple answers, I think there are hints to be found in the written records of wise men.

Walden was first reccommended in Timothy Ferriss’ The Four Hour Workweek as a source of reading to “reduce emotional and material baggage.” Indeed, Walden is often quoted by adventurers and minimalists as an essential read.

Initially, I picked up this book, seeking for answers, realizing that the author wrote the book in search of the answers to his own questions too. In a sense, Thoreau’s time spent amongst the woods, at the fringe of civilization, was somewhat of a spiritual self-discovery.

Thoreau’s Walden is a somewhat autobiographical description of his two years and two months spent in solitude amongst the woods of Concord, Massachusetts, near Walden pond. He built his own shelter and lived alone in his experiment in self reliance and minimalism. These experiments were both a mixture of success and failures, which is what makes the book a compelling read. Here are the lessons I picked up:

1. Experience life to its fullest by participating, not simply reading or listening to others.

While it is true that we gain much knowledge through the books we read, as well as paying attention to the experiences of others, we learn much more through our own participation, hands-on. Life is as meaningful as our own willingness to take risks to try different things, beyond our comfort zone.

“The old and infirm and the timid, of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger, -what danger is there if you don’t think of any?”


2. There is meaningfulness in labor – you have to find it

Lets face it- we all hate the mundane tasks, be it at the home or at work. From doing the dishes to filing papers, it can be a bore if we see no end to it. Therefore it is up to us, our choice, to find the meaning behind the “whats” and “whys” of our activities.

“But labor of the hands, even when pursued to the verge of drudgery, is perhaps never the worst form of idleness. It has a constant and imperishable moral, and to the scholar, it yields a classic result.”


3. We don’t really need all that bling in life – it actually makes us feel worse.

It is stressful to live in a society (such as Singapore) where there is a heavy emphasis on the paperchase, social status, and personal wealth. Thoreau’s writings are echoed by the idea of The Paradox of Choice, increasing materialism and abundance of choice can sometimes have an inverse relationship with the amount of happiness we enjoy. As an alternative to this pursuit of material things, Thoreau felt that he was richer than anyone he knew, having everything he materially needed and the time to enjoy it.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation … … But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

5. No one can tell you how to live. Choose your own life!

By fearing what others say about us, we limit our horizons of thought and see only the lack and pettiness in others. Walden shows the importance of sticking to one’s own decided path. Beware the madness of crowds! For we can assure our own success in life by focusing on our life’s work, and ignoring the naysayers.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his own dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours .

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour.”

6. Self reflection is the most satisfying form of exploration and travel.

Traveling is widely recognized as a way to expand one’s horizons and to expand one’s comfort zones. When we take the lessons from the road to apply it into our daily lives, we understand ourselves better.

“Direct your sight inward and you’ll find

A thousand regions in your mind

Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be

Expert in home-cosmography”

If self help’s literary origins were traced, my opinion is that its paths would lead to literary works such as Stoic philosophy and American Transcendentalism.

Walden pond in spring, Concord Massachusetts

Walden pond in spring. Concord, Massachusetts

“But labor of the hands, even when pursued to the verge of drudgery, is perhaps never the worst form of idleness. It has a constant and imperishable moral, and to the scholar, it yields a classic result.”
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