Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Walden: A Historical Experiment

We live in great times, when people are doing amazing symbolic things for the environment and society. Seems like everyone has a year-long eco-project these days - the 100 Mile Diet, 100 Thing Challenge, No Impact Project, The Compact, Seven Things, Wardrobe Refashion, and I'm sure many more (feel free to contribute one to this list).

Long before all of that, way back in the 1800s, a man spent a year living with nature in a little log cabin. Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond is among the most famous of these projects - and it was as much an experiment as a statement, like the ones above. It also resulted in a book (Walden).

What I love most about Walden is that it wasn't just an experiment, but the basic philosophy that life is not just experiments and going about your life doing what you need to do, but unconditionally doing what is right. Thoreau summarized his philosophy: Simplify. In the introduction to Walden by Joseph Wood Kutch, his philosophy is expanded a bit, fortunately:

"The lesson he had taught himself, and which he tried to teach others, was summed up in the one word "Simplify." That meant simplify the outward circumstances of your life, simplify your needs and your ambitions; learn to delight in the simple pleasures with the world of Nature affords. It meant also, scorn public opinion, refuse to accept the common definitions of success, refuse to be moved by the judgment of others. And unlike most who advocate such attitudes, he put them into practice."

Greats like Gandhi, MLK, and Tolstoy have been inspired by Thoreau, and even they have been unable to put all he said into practice. We can only aspire.