Walden (Life in the Woods) by Henry David Thoreau

Walden is a 2 years personal biography (from 1845-1847) written by Henry David Thoreau on his experience living in the woods on the north shore of Walden Pond. The first time I was doing my masters in planning to learn about ecosystems. Thoreau was a poet and a writer who decided to venture into the woods to learn about simple living and reflect on society, human nature, work, the government and nature. 

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Thoreau noticed how the modern societies sapped humans of energy and joy with noise, rushing and working hard to accumulate things and stuff. He noticed also that our modern societies offer so little opportunities to gain real wisdom as the modern life is disturbing. He says “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and to Thoreau that was a fool’s life; lacking profound meaning and wisdom.

One of the problems that Thoreau highlights in our modern life is the foundation of the work-life balance. That we spend most of our time working and then we get no time left for reading or spending time on meaningful activities. In the forest, Thoreau learned the value of solitude and practised the art of minimalism learning from native Americans to focus on the necessities. Thoreau found that having the essentials only whether in terms of things or activities gave him much time to read, meditate and practice some creative and artistic activities.

While some people described Thoreau’s experience as anti-social, his small hut that he built himself had many visitors and Thoreau and his visitors gathered to discuss deep matters. Also, Thoreau made good relationships with his neighbours, the fishermen who came to fish the pond and even the forest animals. Thoreau’s major tasks were building his house, tending the garden and finding wood for the fireplace and the stove. His meals were simple yet tasty and nutritious and he learned how to make everything in his life functional and practical.

He reflected on the injustices in our modern society with many poor and homeless people while others have plenty to excess. He also learned the virtue of patience as he worked hard and had to wait for his crops to grow or the seasons to change. In this book, he says “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

Lessons we can learn from Thoreau’s immersive experience:
  1. Focus on having the bare minimum of life necessities, as money and possessions are not the only rewards in life.
  2. Focus only on the important activities and you will save time that you can spend on creative and meaningful activities.
  3. Solitude is an immersive experience that will leave you serene and content.
  4. There is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely as you will learn how to be your own companion.
  5. In modern society, things and stuff might take away from the value of our social interactions.
  6. Big ideas need large spaces to reveal themselves, clutter and crowded spaces suffocate ideas.
  7. Independent thinking flourishes in simple living.
  8. Hospitality doesn’t mean lavish stuff and elaborate foods, a simple rustic meal served with love and care is much more pleasant and enjoyable.
  9. Life is an endless cycle and our personal lives are no different, appreciate each season and celebrate the happy moments.
  10. To be happy and successful, you need to be deliberate and not to get side-tracked by small things.
  11. You have only one life to live, find those rich experiences that will make you live life to the fullest.
  12. Complicated lives prevent us from knowing ourselves and from just being.
  13. Routines full of unnecessary activities hinder us from experiencing and expanding our thoughts and make us stagnant and rut.
  14. You don’t need loads of money and stuff to feel rich.
  15. Appreciate the little pleasures that don’t cost much but have a far deeper meaning.

By the end of the 2 years, Thoreau decided to end his experiment and embark on other life experiences.

 

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