This is a post about self-sufficiency and about minimalism and a million more things. But mostly this is a post about following what you know to be right in your heart and not just knowing the right path but walking it.
In 1854 a man named Henry David Thoreau wrote a book called Walden: A Life in the Woods. At the time it may have seemed inconsequential but has been quite life changing for most. At the very least, someone like me begins to see the world differently after reading it. Just for context by the way the book was written several years prior to the civil war. This was actually a time in which the US was quite self-sufficient on an individual basis. However in places such as New England people were beginning to live lives of “quiet desperation” as Mr. Thoreau put it so well. They were already dependent upon systems of support. They were already following things like fashion trends and calling themselves cultured.
The book is literally the account of how a man came to disregard essentially everything society had to offer and moved to the woods – a squatter on a piece of land he didn’t even own. Contained in the book is the manifesto and essential philosophy of anyone who hopes to be self-sufficient. But there’s so much more. Sustainable agriculture vis-a-vis naturalist thinking and survivalism in the most basic sense can be found between the two covers. Thoreau has a way of turning convention on its head and stating the truth when it has been hid so long by a veil of lies.
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.
But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fact, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal.
Many people never stop to question a thing. We do it out of tradition or societal norm until it is THE WAY and not just another way.
Thoreau continues along this path:
The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of any thing, it is very likely to be my good behavior.
And with a flick of the wrist Thoreau turns the societal norm on its head. If I am meant to behave and be a good little cog in the wheel then I’m ok with misbehaving.
But the most telling line is this one:
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.
One line that tends to focus me on work with meaning is this:
It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?
Thoreau’s tone is that of many other revolutionary figures both before and after him. Is it any wonder that he thinks true change comes from within – as expressed here:
The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls — the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.
Being a writer this next line is the one line I try to remember at all time. Right, wrong or indifferent there are a lot of people dispensing advice. If I’m going to dispense advice I want it to be learned advice – not from a book but from experience.
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
I keep that in mind any time I put out a podcast or a blog post or write an article. I don’t want to tell you about things I haven’t lived.