“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to face 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.”
“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods
Last week I mentioned that this home in the woods was built of trees from the property. We are the caretakers of this property, which has passed through the hands of several families since it was constructed. Little has changed other than the addition of plumbing. In fact, I sit in the same wicker chair that has been on this porch since the beginning.
The home’s purpose then, as now, was to disconnect from the frenetic life of the city, breathe deeply of the clean, pine-scented air, and reconnect with family and friends. But it was even deeper than that. The original builders, a wealthy family from New York, wanted to escape their gilded palace and hectic social schedule for a dose of reality by roughing it.
This property, along with most of those on this historic lake, started out with tents, and then platforms built for the tents. Those platforms then had walls and roofs added. There was no heating, other than the wood you could cut yourself and burn in your fireplace. It remains mostly that way today, making early spring and occasional cold-front summer days a little less comfortable.
Healing from a Horrible War
But with the lack of comfort came a sense of self, a sense of peace and simplicity. Following the stress-filled Civil War years, people wanted to escape the cities, heal their wounds of lost family and friends, and improve the quality of life.
If anything good came out of the pandemic, it was this desire by many to escape the cities and improve their quality of life. Every small town in America has added new families who escaped their previous way of living.
And most of us have found ourselves. We’ve learned about what we’re willing to tolerate and what we wish to avoid.
Suck the Marrow Out of Life
Sometimes we escape in search of something new in order to “live deep and suck the marrow out of life” (Thoreau). For some it’s a new town, an escape from the cities, but, as Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify.”
For many, the chase we participated in over the years provided no meaning, yet meaning was found within the walls we were locked inside. Rediscovering our family, our passions, and our creative side. No longer willing to tolerate what no longer feels right.
Thoreau’s Walden provides advice that applies to our current situation.
- “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.”
- “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”
- “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
- “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
- “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”
- “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.”
When we were locked and chained, we discovered what matters and what carries no meaning. Now, you and I are getting used to our reinvented selves. Making adjustments as we see how this suit fits.
The danger, I fear, is that we return to being busy, forgetting the joys of being in quiet, forcing ourselves to be comfortable outside our zone of comfort.
The lockdown was a gift, a slap in the face, a wakeup call, that life does not have to be lived the way we thought we were supposed to live it.
Be True to Yourself
Don’t forget what you told yourself was going to forever change. Be true to yourself, not your busy mindset.
Others have told me they discovered that they were leading lives of quiet desperation, going through the motions, on the merry-go-round with no chance to stop, no time to assess and realize the spinning was not moving them forward.
Have you returned to this maze, this trap?
Have you returned to being busy and forgotten your dreams?
“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 unexpected success in common hours … 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.”
What price are you paying for the life you’re pursuing? “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
PS: When I first read Henry David Thoreau as a young man, it had no meaning because I had yet to live, yet to be entrapped by busywork with no goal in sight. Its meaning shouted to me this time, because of life’s experience.
The biggest tragedy is a discussion with someone who isn’t following their dreams, who has given up on them, who lacks confidence in their ability to achieve them, or has never tried.
I don’t believe dreams are random. I believe they are provided for you, to speak to your heart, to discover the special things only you can do. The world was built by dreamers. Yet cemeteries are filled with many who never followed their dreams.
Don’t waste time. There are no limits, no expiring deadlines. The only limits are the cages trapping you inside your mind.
Don’t waste one more breath. Be deliberate and follow what you’re intended to do.
PS2: The words are almost predictable. A visitor at dinner last night, when discovering what I do for a living, said, “I have no talent. I can’t do what you do.”
“But you can,” I said. “If you can follow a recipe, I can teach you to paint.”
“No, I have no talent,” she said, defeat in her voice.
Why is it we know that musicians need to learn music scales and practice, surgeons need a decade or more of schooling, but we think that artists are born with talent. It’s a myth. Like any profession, or any hobby, you simply learn how to do it by following a process.
Art is one thing I hear people tell me they would love to do, but fear they don’t have what it takes.
Please allow me to prove you wrong so you can live a life of joy, able to create beauty that is part of who you are.
Join me for Pastel Live this August. If you don’t know how to paint after, if you have not dispelled the myth that you have no talent, I’ll refund your money.
No one gets good fast. It takes practice. The more practice, the more perfect (instructed) practice, the faster you get good, but it still takes time. But it’s joy-filled time.
What do you have to lose? Nothing at all.