THE QUIET SIMPLICITY OF THOREAU'S WALDEN

Henry David Thoreau wrote about living quietly, mindfully and simply in his novel Walden. These are all aspects of life we can aspire to live in today's busy world if we choose to live a slow, simple life. #simpleliving

QUIETLY LIVING WITH THOREAU

Today it's "Q" on my List of More and I thought I'd take a slightly different tangent to my usual posts. A while ago I started looking at "Walden" (or "Life in the Woods") by Henry David Thoreau, and the similarities between his quiet life back in 1845 and my new quiet life in 2019.

Just a quick overview to catch you up if you're not a Thoreau fan:

"Walden is an account of the two years during which Henry David Thoreau lived a life of simplicity in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau's idea was that one's true self could be lost amid the distractions of ordinary life, and assumes that human identity is not based on one’s profession, or possessions, or social connections... Thoreau also presents the values of mindfulness, detachment, simplicity, and living in the present moment." (e-notes)

I'm sharing a few little snippets from Henry and how they relate to my life now and I hope you find something of value if you take the time to read and ponder a little too.

SEEKING THOREAU’S VISION

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Sometimes I feel like my journey from a complicated work environment to choosing the sanctity and simplicity of home life mirrors some of what Thoreau found when he lived in the woods. Having the courage and confidence to choose a lifestyle that may not be what others assume is best has been the beginning of a healing and transforming phase for me. It might not look like success to those who are driven by high ideals and expectations, but it feels like success to me - and that's a wonderful achievement to tick off in Midlife isn't it?


WHAT PRICE FREEDOM?

“The cost of a thing is the amount of life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” 

“...my greatest skill has been to want but little.”

I feel like I’m no longer sacrificing my days to the god of money or the god of expectations – and that brings with it a value that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. It never ceases to amaze me how little we actually require to live a comfortable life that still meets all our needs. When I’m not working I need less clothes (no work outfits to buy), less shoes (no work shoes), less petrol (I’m not driving to my job each day), less treats (I don’t need to bolster myself with a coffee), less pampering (no need to get my nails done). Each item that gets omitted means an equal amount of cash is saved, it might not mean that my savings balance what I would have been earning, but I certainly don’t miss that extra income as much as I’d thought I would.


LIVING DELIBERATELY

“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.”

When I stopped work, I went into my own “woods” to live deliberately – to see what life could teach me, what I could learn – and ultimately I discovered that I am living and living well. I think we sometimes need to take a risk, step into the unknown, cast off the security blanket of doing the same thing because we think we have to, and see what life wants to teach us. For me it’s been a lesson in “being” rather than “doing” – allowing myself the luxury of taking time to breathe and to rest. And to have lived on my own terms so I don't look back with regret.


QUIET DESPERATION

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.”

I’m sure not everyone leads a life of quiet desperation, but I certainly was. I’d spiralled down into a quiet despair where I dreaded Monday mornings and lived for the end of my working days. I went from the desperation of work to the desperation of trying to recover enough at home, only to return again to that cycle every week. You can hide it behind a smile, and you can put on a brave front, but if your heart is slowly dying and your joy has faded away, then you really need to ask yourself “Why?”


A FRAGRANT LIFE

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal - that is your success.”

Life now is a quiet joy, where (like Thoreau) I’m “unhurried and wise…” My days are slower and calmer, they’re filled with things that I enjoy. I choose what happens each day and the pace that suits me. I can mix together “doing” and “being” and there’s no need for recovery because life is so pleasant. Why did I persevere for so long in that soulless work environment? I can only think now that it was due to a work ethic and drive that made me refuse to admit that I was drained dry and out of my league. Letting it all go and replacing the negativity with joy has been an absolute boon. I wake up every morning with a smile, no headaches, no lingering worries, just a fragrant and elastic (love that word!) life.


WHAT A (WO)MAN THINKS

“What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”

One of the biggest lessons I learned from my time in that job was that I needed stronger boundaries. I needed the confidence and self-care to be able to say “No" and "Enough” and to expect that to be respected. When you’re dealing with someone who walks all over your line in the sand and who doesn’t understand that you deserve peace and a calm work environment, then you need to step back and walk away. When you learn to value your own needs and make them a priority, then you start being the determiner of your own destiny rather than letting the loudest voice win.

SILENTLY SMILING

“I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune.” 
  
Like Thoreau, I’m now silently smiling at my incessant good fortune. To have left the drama behind, to have come out into the sunshine, and to be able to smile again is reward enough. To be dwelling in a “cabin in the woods” of my own making is a delight indeed. To be content with what I have and to feel blessed every day with how life has turned out, to be able to look to the future with happy expectation – I think Henry would be proud of me.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Have you read "Walden"? Are you a fan of Thoreau? Sometimes in our fast paced world I think it's good to take a step back and look through the eyes of someone who chose a different world view and what we can learn from them.


RELATED POSTS


Henry David Thoreau wrote about living quietly, mindfully and simply in his novel Walden. These are all aspects of life we can aspire to live in today's busy world if we choose to live a slow, simple life. #simpleliving
Henry David Thoreau wrote about living quietly, mindfully and simply in his novel Walden. These are all aspects of life we can aspire to live in today's busy world if we choose to live a slow, simple life. #simpleliving

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22 comments

  1. I have heard of Thoreau although I admit I have not spent time pondering his writing. I do understand first hand some of the ins and outs of your past work environment. Of course, you had some specific challenging circumstances and challenging people. I appreciate reading and learning how you are moving forward. I ‘get it’ when you write about “the money” and “the expectations.”

    I love your words, “life is a quiet joy” “slower and calmer”

    It truly looks like success to me. A wonderful post, Leanne:)

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    1. Erica, as I've gone through this whole job drama incident, I've been surprised at the number of Midlife women who have similar stories to tell. All felt like they'd been thrust into a situation not of their choosing, but all have moved on to better lives. I was a bit lost when it all happened, but as time is going on I'm coming to see that it was necessary and has led to a much calmer and more settled phase of life for me - and that's a blessing in itself - "quiet joy" indeed!

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  2. I haven't read any Thoreau but I adore your take on this. It resonates so much with me. The money, the expectations, the price on freedom...all of it. Have a great weekend.

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    1. Hi Jo - I confess to a lot of skimming (that generation writes in a very ponderous fashion at times!) but it resonated deeply with me too - that desire to look beyond what others see as success, and to reach a point where you're content with yourself and your choices - something we all aspire to I hope :)

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  3. Leanne, I have 'skimmed' Walden, but I have read Thoreau's mentor, Ralph W. Emerson's journals extensively over the years. Both offer beautiful insights regarding a life well lived. Learning to BE takes time and a lot of letting go. You have been peeling back the layers and it shows; 'throwing off the yoke of man's opinions' as Emerson would say. Congratulations

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    1. Hi Suzanne - I'd love to be more of a scholar at times - those authors from the 1800's are a tough read, but there's so many nuggets in there that we can still apply to life right now aren't there? I think there are so many of us casting off from trying to meet society's expectations, and enjoying a quieter simpler life instead - and the rest of the world doesn't know what it's missing!

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  4. I completely agree with the power and beauty of simple living. You have expressed it very thoughtfully and articulately!

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    1. Thanks Donna - I see your island life as very Walden-ish in it's closeness to nature and being away from the busyness of major city life too.

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  5. I like many of the Thoreau's quotes and have him on my "to be read" pile! I also have found the shift from negativity to positivity in retirement has been so wonderful. For me it was a combination of the environment, but also the person I had become to survive in it - critical, never happy, constantly having to prove myself again and again. I talk to colleagues who are still working and hear the negative environment is still there! And they are still trying to survive in it, as I was. Practicing positivity plus learning to enjoy being (and not always doing) - yeah. I am happier every day. But even at 5 years retired I'm still practicing/learning this!

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    1. I think it's a never-ending process Pat because the world around us promotes the dog eat dog way of living that we've walked away from. I look back at my working days and how pressed I was to stay on top of things and how tired of it all I was, it makes me sigh and then breathe in deeply and appreciate the absolute joy of having stepped away from it all and not having to deal with any of the stress and competition - bliss!

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  6. I LOVE Thoreau and his quotes are some of the only ones I recognise. I love his take on simplicity and life.

    My fave quote of his: "Being is the great explainer."

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    1. Love that quote Deb - and I just found such a sense of connection with what Thoreau was trying to do and with where I've been heading. Escaping the rat race is definitely intergenerational and international!

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  7. I haven’t read Thoreau but from what you’ve described, I can certainly relate to what he’s written. My simple, mostly carefree life, brings me so much joy, there are times I can’t believe how lucky I am. I’m truly living for myself now and choosing how I spend each day. No more nagging thoughts about what I’m not doing right. It’s too bad we can’t experience this type of contentment our whole lives!!!

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    1. I feel exactly the same way Linda - I almost feel guilty when I think about how easy and pleasant my life is these days. Wouldn't it be lovely to always live this way? I'm hoping to continue in this mode until the day I die - no more rat race for me!

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  8. Leanne, this post is very beautifully written! So are the comments. I've had an unusual life: I wasn't fully in the fray of the working world. But, I have found that, in my latter life (I'm 65), I have become better acquainted with myself and God, and am learning to release my frustrations and allow God to handle those things that try to bring anxiety. I am learning peace.

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    1. Hi - thanks so much for sharing that, I'm finding very similar truths myself these days - a deeper connection to God, more time to listen to good teaching (I found a fantastic podcast series of sermons that I'm devouring atm) and more headspace with the time and flexibility to apply myself to things that interest me - not just the "have to's" anymore. I'm learning peace too x

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  9. Through my explorations of others' works I have read about Walden and the experiment Thoreau carried out living there. One thing I am always fascinated by in life today, is that there always seems to have been some kind of problem to be solved in no matter what era or time frame.

    Thank you for linking up for Life This Week. Next week's optional prompt is 35/51 Share Your Snaps #7 2/9/19 and I hope you will join in. Denyse.

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    1. I found it fascinating that he was looking to step back from life too Denyse - and his life would have been a lot calmer and unstressed than ours is in the 21 century. I guess there are always those who prefer to be out of the hubbub and in a place of serenity - I'm definitely one of them!

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  10. Thoreau fascinates me and your take shines light on the positive aspects on life today- simplicity is the best way to get grounded. Thanks for joining us in Bloggers Pit Stop - Pit Stop Crew

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    1. Hi Menaka - I think simplicity is something that is overlooked in today's busy world of trying to do more, own more, and be more. Being satisfied with less and living a quiet life is under-rated but such a joy when you discover it.

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  11. What a delightful way of looking at things Leanne, I really enjoyed your take on the quotes and learning more about you. Your life certainly has changed and for the better I’d say!

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    1. It's certainly a different life atm Deb - as you'd know, retirement can come as a surprise, but when we embrace it and look for the silver lining, then the quiet joy that Thoreau describes becomes our reality - and it's very pleasant indeed!

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