Like most profound ideas, this one is simple:
I would not pursue the common course…where anything is professed and practised but the art of life (emphasis mine), to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to what vagabond he is a satellite himself; or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar.
The art of life is to live… not to study it, or play at it, or retreat from it behind comforts and safeguards.
The art of life is to live.
Sometimes, I imagine my life without its financial troubles. I hire all unpleasant tasks out. I go where I wish and pay for the best. I have comfortable rooms by the sea and homes which are cared for by someone else.
An uneasy feeling inevitably follows. I cannot express why. Only that I sense I am not ready for it. Perhaps it may be our spiritual demise. A curtailing of work to be done. A softness where strength is needed. A love of money kindled. A desire to protect what is obtained. I hear the gate click, the door shut, the latch turned and I am trapped. Then, I thank God for my troubles.
How does one live? What is the key to the art of life?
If such questions could be answered in a post, we wouldn’t be reading them. We’d be living instead.
I often hear the phrase, “The purpose of life is to love God and love people.” Sometimes, they add the word “on” which really annoys me. To love “on” people always brings an image of my jumping on them and licking them. To love “on” people removes a dignity which should always accompany a living soul — it places me as benefactor and patron. “I’m just going to love on you, man.” Yeah, that phrase has gotta go.
I don’t know if that’s really our purpose — to love God and to love people. (I recognize I’m arguing with the catechism here, but I dare to do it.)
In regards to loving God … I’m more inclined to believe our purpose is to receive love.
If love never fails, then what else is needed? And, isn’t it a bit presumptuous to jump to loving as if we could create anything from nothing?
Perhaps life isn’t so hard. Perhaps it was intended to be frightfully easy — to abide with the Father and He in me. Change is a natural effect. Perhaps if we would go about doing only the work before us and not go searching for more, we’d find peace and genius.
In regards to loving people, Thoreau provides an elegant defense for not being a philanthropist and within it lies the mustard seed.
Probably I should not consciously and deliberately forsake my particular calling to do the good which society demands of me, to save the universe from annihilation; and I believe that a like but infinitely greater steadfastness elsewhere is all that now preserves it.
Here, Thoreau shows a greater faith than most of us — faith in a “greater steadfastness” which actually preserves the creation. He resists his contemporaries’ criticisms to “pitch in and just love people” and retreats to his little cabin on Walden pond to write.
Fact is, he couldn’t. And neither can we. Which is why we mustn’t forsake our particular calling to “do good” elsewhere.
Which particular calling is Thoreau referring to? He lived a short life full of freedom, but, if the very poor were offered the life Thoreau lived, they would probably decline and keep their poverty. Thoreau’s life was a true religion, “a keeping oneself unspotted from the world.”
Success? Walden only sold a couple thousand during his lifetime.
It’s never been out of print since.
If the art of life were a tree, the branches would be the natural outcome of being loved; the taproot would drink from the fountain of love. The fruit would be the true you — unadorned and childlike — a sleeping baby with a blush on your cheek and eyelashes resting softly on your skin. The soil would be the faith in the truth you are loved. From this place, one can do the work of God.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. (Walden, 323- 324)
From a sage (who are people who simply know who they are).
- Week 8: An Alchemist with Time (oregonpilgrim.com)
- Wild and Free: The Libertarian Philosophy of Henry David Thoreau (c4ss.org)
- Retreat to the Wilderness (davidtripp.wordpress.com)
- Thoughts From Thoreau (newbillthurman.wordpress.com)
- A Sonnet for Henry Thoreau (hihellohi1234567.wordpress.com)
- Overview of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (erwinlhagans.wordpress.com)