Off The Beaten Track
May 21, 2011 § 6 Comments
Thoreau spent two years and two months living at Walden Pond in a cabin he built himself because he wished to live deliberately, to experience the essential facts of life. This morning, I’m packing to go to Joshua Tree. I’m very excited to see this desert, which I’ve learned may be in bloom. I’m excited to be a fish out of water, to uproot myself from the rainy greater New York area, and look out over a vastly different landscape.
I can’t resist sharing why Thoreau left the woods: “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten tracke for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite dinstinct. It is true, I fear that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.
I have 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 unimagined 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; of the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the lecense 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 nave built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
When we go away on retreat–or when we just go on a trip–we temporary simplify our lives. We uproot ourselves from an intricately woven nest of habits and associations. If we have an aim when we travel, we may see much–and not just much about the blooming desert in California, but about ourselves. We need not travel far. As Thoreau famously said: “I have travelled much in Concord.”