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.”

§ 6 Responses to Off The Beaten Track

  • Ron Starbuck says:

    The mind is indeed a tremendous traveler, it may skip from one universe to the next as quickly as a passing thought, or focus its vision tightly and fully on a single flower blooming in the desert. One that is arising out of the emptiness of all creation, there in that present and eternal moment of time, which is entirely yours to discover, given as a gift from the heavens.

    Enjoy your time in retreat Tracy. – Ron

  • Barbara H Berger says:

    Yes! All good wishes for your time in the desert.


  • Paula says:

    I was there 3 days ago. Beautiful weather and the quiet of the desert is unique.

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Tracy

    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.”

    How many sincerely have an aim and know what it means?

    “In the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, there is a prayer that could have been written at any time, by any man of any religion:

    From the unreal, lead me to the real!

    From darkness, lead me to light!

    From death, lead me to immortality!”

    Do we wish the real or consolation? What is the difference between the real and what feels right? Which light are we drawn to – the real or Lucifer’s beautiful light?

  • Maggi Moromisato says:

    Joshua Tree: I live near there and have experienced it during all the seasons, camping or just for the day: i even left some of my Mom’s ashes there. My sister came from Clayton, and we had our own memorial svc. I embrace the granite boulders; my grandchildren have played on them. When my nephew visited (pre-teen) a decade-plus ago, we did the usual tourista stuff, Disneyland, etc. Then we went to J Tree. He was so excited. Everytime he climbed over a boulder, he believed he was the first human to be there. Before he returned to NY, I asked which event was his favorite. He gave me one of his rare smiles, and said, “Joshua Tree.”

  • tracycochran says:

    Thank you, Maggi. What a great place to live. Feeling like the first human definitely trumps Disney World.

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