“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.”
Henry David Thoreau
Are we living our lives with intention?
Years ago I discovered Thoreau’s philosophical piece, Walden, or Life in the Woods in a literature survey course. Mostly because of him, I’ve stopped wearing a watch. While that may be a different topic for another post, I had to mention it for the sheer humor of my response.
If you’ve ever spent time in the woods to reconnect with nature, you’ll understand the reason one would go there for self discovery. The sounds of nature calm us: birds singing, the rustle of leaves in the wind, small animals skittering across the ground. These woods are a place of silence with which to unwind from the stresses of the world. It’s an instant meditation in some cases. Your eyes and ears can seem to span miles. You breathe deeply and awaken your lungs. Smells of pine, grasses, perhaps a flower can bring your mind to a sense of inner peace so powerful you’ll wonder why you don’t return as often as you’d like.
While at Walden Pond, Thoreau paid close attention to the seasons, calculated the depths of the pond, and wrote about the wonders of that small space of the earth. Even though the book is written as if one year was spent, the duration was actually two years. Many of his recorded thoughts aim to teach us how to live as simply as possible, without the so-called luxuries that entrap us into thinking that without them we have no value. Now, I didn’t stop wearing my wrist watch because it represented a luxury, no. My reason is so much more in depth than that. You see, the train had made its way into Concord, Massachusetts at the time Thoreau was writing. It was the intrusion of the train that he wrote about. Yes, intrusion. Today we recognize the revolutionary advancements the train and tracks provided for our country. The transportation, the moving of goods, the letters it brought from afar allowed us more freedoms. Does it not seem odd that Henry would despise the train? At one point in the text, he exclaims that the daily routine had become obnoxious and irritating. Its sounds and entrances into town destroyed the serenity of the peace he had found in the nearby woods. The train had imposed such an unnatural rut in the fabric of the earth so timely one can set his watch by its arrival.
There it is, yes?
What is it we do by such rote that disturbs our inner peace?
What do we allow in our lives that keeps us from living simply? Is it a schedule that we feel we must keep to be popular? Soccer moms, how many activities are your children involved in? Do these activities obstruct a relaxed dinner time around the family table?
Shouldn’t relationships we build be more important than keeping up with preconceived notions of the possible grandeur of unnecessary things?
Think about the woods again. They thrive without man pushing his way through to be known to it.
No. You don’t have time. (3 of 3)
Not too long ago I was riding in the car with a friend who impatiently tried to nudge the car ahead of her when the traffic light had just changed and proclaimed, “Hey, the light’s not getting any greener. What are you waiting for?”
Similarly, Incubus lyrics suggest we are waiting for “A Certain Shade of Green.”
My last two posts have been about change and discuss what may be holding us back. I’d like to take a few moments to focus on what a dear friend said to me recently, when in passing I impressed upon her that I had time to do something I wanted in life. She pulled me aside. Having lost her husband of 50 years, Ilse made herself perfectly clear. “No. You don’t have time” was her response. Within seconds I’d realized the magnitude of her statement. She’s right. None of us have time. She thought she’d have the rest of her life with her loving husband. Unfortunately, life isn’t a sure thing for any of us. Now is the time to do the thing we hanker to do. “Now, now, now. . .” I can almost hear the opening scene to Shakespeare’s Richard III. Obviously, the context is different; nonetheless, he began to take action for the changes he wanted make. I do not suggest we pine for greed or power. But what about that trip to Europe you’ve been wanting to take? How about that new business? Taking care of those pesky, extra few pounds? The thing you desire most that you’ve been putting off for one reason or another.
Sound familiar? We all go through it. The desire to be or do that thing just outside our reach. What are you waiting for? Certainly, you’re not waiting for permission. We talked about that last time. Are you waiting to be thin enough or have money enough or be good enough? Nonsense. You ought to do what you desire. You’ll find a way. Don’t provide excuses, more reasons to remain in your burning desires. Plan the steps it will take to bring on that trip, that new job or business, a slimmer you.
I understand changes aren’t easy. The reality is, some changes take a while to come to fruition; but even so, those steps will help you feel better as you move through your days knowing you’re on your way to having what you want. You might even become healthier performing the steps because you’ll move in the right direction toward your goals. Imagine the relief of paying off a credit card and saving for that trip. What a load off! Tiny steps to get over the mountain. In the meantime, follow the old cliche and take time to stop to smell the roses. This life is your journey. It’s all yours. Plan it as if you would your vacation. Remember though, there are no guarantees. The upside is while you aim for your goals, happiness seems to catch up to you prior to reaching those heights. No action keeps you where you are: self loathing and sitting with fears that you might not succeed.
Lucille Ball once said, “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done in life than regret the things I didn’t do.”
We ought to live on the edge of something we are about to create than repeat the same patterns to exhaustion.
I used to study ant behavior. One of the changes I like to do is to mix up my daily drive. Taking a different route helps to eliminate the etched trails we create on our roadways. Imagine what aliens, if they exist, would notice about our patterns. They’re not very creative. I’d surmise they’d think we have no purpose or clue what else to do. Of course the concept is silly; however, it makes sense to make changes and live the life we are meant to live. Funny, my auto-correct just changed my statement to: Live the life we are meant to love. I think I like that better. Love your life. If you don’t, determine what needs to change and take small steps to arrive at your place. Your “Ithaca.”
Here is a poem by Constantine P. Cavafy that may help you realize your journey.
When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.
Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy –
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.
Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithakas mean.
Constantine P. Cavafy
Carpe diem! Seize the day!
(2 of 3)
In Speaking of Change, we discussed fears and contemplated reasons we may make to stay stagnant in our lives rather than move forward.
I hope that this note may help confront one of the many, but powerful reasons not to embrace our inner changes – feeling as if we need permission to do the task, take the job, move out of state, lose the weight, start a new business, earn another degree, or live the life we desire.
Ask yourself these questions.
Am I my own entity? Do I depend on another’s lungs to help me breathe? Am I capable of thinking for myself?
Surely, as a living, breathing person, you desire to do things that not everyone else around you wants to do. Say this to yourself: “I am unique.” Embrace your autonomy. You’re the master of you.
To require another’s permission to eat, breathe, sleep, laugh, relax, or play is silly. How you do things is strictly up to you. Take this notion into other areas of your life. As simply as it is to be yourself, it is just as simple to make changes in your habits, or create changes in your life. Of course, if you desire any major change, such as breaking poor habits, consult a step by step program that is well designed and has a proven success rate. My aim is to inspire you to muster up your inner spirit to move forward with positive changes without feeling like you need approval from anyone. You don’t. Those fires that wake you up at night are your own inspirations. Listen to them. Do you ache for a better quality of life? You have what it takes within you.
Let me note a strange phenomenon that sometimes occurs in the psyche. After we grow up, into adulthood, we forget that we are adults, equipped to decide what is best for ourselves. That’s left for those major decision makers, we say. Nonsense. We are no longer children. Who else but you knows the best path? As long as we remain aware of our true selves and our surroundings, we can make the best decisions. What do I mean by our true selves? Remember, my suggestion is that our true self is the one that wakes us up in the middle of the night. It’s the voice that you attempt to muffle because you know it speaks the truth about your circumstances. It’s the voice that would have you do something you’d rather not listen to because it would invoke change. It’s clear. We’re lazy. But we can do what are deepest desires require. Change.
Resist the urge to wait for anyone’s permission for us to live the lives we ought to be living.
Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ 1953 is a classic, absurdist, two-scene play, now on Broadway depicting two men under the impression to wait in one place for a man named Godot who never arrives. Does your life feel like this? Do you wait in one place, one circumstance, for something to happen? Read the script:
Dear one, you’re the one who is to make your life happen.
Ah, so you think you have all kinds of time, do you? You haven’t read the play.
Read the last in this series:
No, You Don’t Have Time