The First Step Towards a New Path
Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, But positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
-Henry David Thoreau
Hello fellow sojourners! Since this my first post, I thought I should start by giving an introduction into what I am hoping to share with all of you. As the family and I decided to embark on this new chapter of exploration, I thought about what this journey means to me and in what way I can hopefully inspire others. Oh sure, traveling can be fun in and of itself, but why? There’s no doubt that it is stimulating, relaxing, and adventurous to go to a new place and meet different people…an escape from the mundane…but it is more than that to me. Our world is an amazing place. Landscapes so beautiful no painting, photograph, or video could do it justice. Cultures so diverse, yet similar, that by getting a glimpse, our human roots are felt. Histories so vast and overflowing with experiences from which to learn that the view of a place is expanded into more than the environment. It’s living in the moment and letting the environment, rich with life and history, seep into the soul to stimulate personal growth. That is what this means to me, peeling back the layers of the world and myself, and becoming forever changed by it. Walden Pond is one of those places for me. A place that has seeded my brain with a blossoming concept leading to a path I have always wanted to tread.
Let me begin by giving you a description and a history. According to Wikipedia, Walden Pond was formed by retreating glaciers some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. It is a 65-acre body of water that is part of the 335-acre reservation and state park cared for by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Located in Concord, Massachusetts, it is place of almost etheric sereneness. Rings of forest-covered embankments, open out to a small beach shore overlooking the pond itself. People can stroll well-worn footpaths, picnic on the sand, soak in the sights and sounds of nature, and lose themselves in thought gazing out the fine misty haze slightly hovering over the water. Being a part of nature and separating from busy city life is, in my opinion, enough of a draw. However, it is not the only thing that makes this place special.
Walden Pond was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1962 due to its connection with Henry David Thoreau. Henry David Thoreau was an essayist, philosopher, abolitionist, and early minimalist. Having lived from 1817 to 1862 in the height of the Industrial Revolution and on the edge of the American Civil War, he experienced the progression of growth of factories and mills. In fact, his family owned and operated a pencil-making factory renowned for the best pencils, large part due to Thoreau’s research into German-made techniques according to the Thoreau Society. He graduated from Harvard University in 1837. While attending Harvard, he became acquainted with Ralph Waldo Emerson and eventually became his protegé. Through this association, Thoreau entered into a study of Transcendentalism.
Transcendentalism was a movement popular among authors of that time which promoted the study of spirituality over materialism. Thoreau believed that the concern over wealth and material possessions were not what was truly important to the growth of mankind. He considered the established norm of working six days per week with one day off not sustainable and led to disconnectedness with each other and with our world. He advocated simple living and set out on a two-year study in a self-built cabin within the woods surrounding Walden Pond on July 4, 1845. During that time his book, Walden, was conceived and advocated for a return to a simple life. Today, the up and coming Minimalist movement is a reflection of these same concepts. According to Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus from TheMinimalists.com, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important – so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” These are the ideas that took hold in my life during a revisiting with my dear husband on our Fall 2016 New England trip.
At the age of 19, I took my first steps far from my home in Texas. I took a job as a live-in nanny in a small town not far from Boston. Having no idea what I wanted to take in college and no real responsibilities, it was the perfect opportunity to explore somewhere different. Walden Pond was just a few miles down the road from where I lived. Not really understanding it, I had read Walden in my high school humanities class and ventured to see it for myself. It was indeed beautiful and left a lasting memory. Returning with Micheal some 27 years later, the effect was much more profound.
As we wandered along the bank of the pond, admiring the reds, golds, purples, and oranges of the fall foliage reflecting off the mirror-like surface, I began to understand the words written by Thoreau that I had read so many years before. While we toured the replica of his cabin, I realized that I had fallen into a trap of materialism. As I looked at the simple space in which he lived, I thought of all the things I have acquired that I don’t use. Clothes I don’t wear. Books I don’t read. Movies I don’t watch. Whole rooms of my house that are just storage spaces and not really needed to live. I thought back to who I was the first time I visited there. What I dreamed. What I wanted to see and do and realized that I had fallen into a trap. A trap, I believe, most of us find ourselves. Our society tells us that to be successful and happy, we must find a good job, make good money, and buy things. The truth is…to quote the film Fight Club, “The things you own…end up owning you.” So much time and, ironically, money is spent doing just that.
Now, please understand…I am grateful for the opportunities I have had in my life. I have two wonderful children, a few good friends, a great husband, and a career that I am proud of. I have been able to provide a comfortable life for me and my family and to make a difference in the lives of others as well, but over the years, something shifted from working to live to living to work. When I graduated high school, I envisioned myself going to different lands, immersing myself in different cultures, meeting interesting people, and being awe-inspired with living history. I realize now that I have attempted to satiate my wanderlust with distractions and comforts. I filled my shelves with books about different cultures, DVDs showing adventures, YouTube videos of other people’s lifestyles, restaurants with vague tastes from around the world, and helping with other peoples’ wants and dreams. I have exhausted my mind, body, and spirit just running on that hamster wheel.
The trip to Walden Pond sparked the lesson that Thoreau was trying to share and began the process of creating this new plan. Michael, Cameron, and I are learning to downsize and live a more simple life. We are boxing up things we don’t need or use and will sell or donate them. I am still working, but now I have a renewed excitement to take what is earned, live with less and begin the life I dreamt of so long ago.
Life is truly about moments. To borrow from our favorite trance group Above and Beyond, “Life is made of small moments like these.” Feeling the warmth of the sun as it says hello every morning. Smelling the sweet scent of flowers carried on the breeze. Watching wildlife interact with the planet. Walking in the footsteps of those that came before us. Sharing a coffee and a laugh with a friend. Meeting new people and getting a glimpse of their world. Playing games and having meaningful conversations with your children. Living your dream. Cozying up in the arms of the one you love. These are the things that make life enjoyable. These are the things your will take with you and will give to others. It is these moments, these memories, that make us smile and feel our own value.
My wish is for everyone to find what they can be excited to be alive for and DO THAT! Let go of doubts. Let go of the idea that success is determined by the amount of money or things you have. Learn to find joy and beauty in the small things instead of filling the void with the latest and greatest. Listen and live true to your soul and you will have all you need. Consider the words of Henry David Thoreau as he thought of them while he looked upon the beauty of our Earth, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” THIS, is our dream. What’s Your Dream?
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Thoreau, Henry David Walden (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966).
Fight Club. Perf. Brad Pitt. 20th Century Fox, 1999. Film.
Milburn, Joshua Fields & Nicodemus, Ryan. “What is Minimalism?” Web. 1 May 2017. http://www.theminimalists.com.
Scheider, Richard J. “Life and Legacy – Thoreau’s Life.” The Thoreau Society, 1941. Web. 1 May 2017. http://www.thoreausociety.org.
Wikipedia Contributors. “Walden Pond.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 May 2017. Web. 20 April 2017. http://en.wikipedia.org/Wiki/WaldenPond
Pier of Fear. By Jono Grant, Tony McGinnis, and Paavo Siljamaki. Pier 94, New York. 28 Oct. 2016. Performance.