There is a distinct vocal expression that black church ladies make when the truth has been spoken, exactly when it needed to be heard. It’s a deep, chesty, “Mm”, usually accompanied by a slow shaking of the head and a “tell the truth, pastor!” This week, Thoreau has me “mm”-ing about every other paragraph or so, as I read his collection of essays, Walden, and I’m only three chapters in. In October, I will be involved in a small reading of a musical loosely based on Walden, so I figured I should acquaint myself. The essays, which detail his two-year long social experiment of removing himself from civilization and relocating to the woods, are tough reads. They are jam-packed with long-winded paragraphs, exhausting metaphorical questions, and endless unexplained references to forgotten figures and writings from ancient history. It definitely takes fierce effort to get through, but, as often as he quotes some antiquated Hindu mythological text of wisdom, he himself imparts countless quotes of wisdom, with directness and clarity. Truths, as I like to call it, which have come exactly when I needed to hear them.
“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.
I love that he uses the word tyrant. I find that it is very easy to be controlled by public opinion, giving it way too much attention. In my past, seeking positive opinion, and desperately trying to steer clear of any negative, have left me inactive and at a loss of trust for my own opinions. But, as Thoreau says, what others think of you, is no match to what you think of yourself, and you can literally change your life based on your own private thoughts.
“No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What every body echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields.”
Complacency: avoid it. Somewhere along the line, I decided that life would be easier if I didn’t make waves. I achieved that by quieting my own thoughts and opinions until they were barely audible, practically muting the person I am. I’m just now, trying to turn up the volume and to think and question. Because Thoreau can wrap this up much better than I ever could, “I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be.”
“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.”
This is a good one is for us ambitious, neurotic New York-types. We have goals, and whether it’s to catch that E train before the doors close, or to make a name for yourself in whatever profession you’ve chosen, if things start to get off track in the slightest, we curse and we cry and we complain. Thoreau thinks we all need to take a chill pill, and go through life like nature, where every event that occurs, is bound to happen, and it happens for a reason.