The following are a series of essays and notes inspired by the writing of Henry David Thoreau.

Saturday
May262007

fragments

The whole plant does not flower. Our best occurs without our knowing, when we are in the midst of our daily work. We only see our flowers later, in a different season, when we pause, rest, and reflect.

Of my reading and studying and searching.... my writing represents 1% or less.

For every word I have written, I have read one hundred and thought one thousand.

I rarely know if what I have written is worthwhile, until I stop thinking.

Always leave something unknown. Part of beauty is imagined and needs darkness.

To know all is boring. Keep faith and trust in the shadows.

I wonder if woodpeckers get headaches.

Trailing back beneath the sun to another one.
Sounding big then far away,
Lost among the trees,
Maybe she's with me down there.

All seasons start earlier than they seem.
Late winter is the true beginning of spring.
Buds move within branches before they sprout.

The beginning of the search for satisfaction is a feeling of dissatisfaction.

Contentedness is not aware of itself. To live in the present, you must forget the past and future.

What you are most is what you will see most.

The poet sees poetry everywhere.
The artist sees beauty everywhere.
The musician hears music everywhere.
The philosopher sees wisdom everywhere.
The mystic sees god everywhere.
The businessman sees money everywhere.
The thief sees thieves everywhere.
The victim sees victims everywhere.

Some people will never be happy. They think that everything and everyone must be perfect, different from what they are.

For some, even the clouds in heaven will be the wrong color.

Imperfections are inevitable and beautiful.
Accept them with love and your world becomes heaven.
Complain about them, always wanting things to be your own way, and your world is hell.

There is always something that seems wrong, but it isn't really wrong.
Things only exist in their present form to test you.
What will you be? How will you think? How will you live?

Our thoughts create our actions and move our lives.
To act well is to believe.

The deepest beliefs are lived.

An authentic life is rarely seen, yet available to us every day.
How many of us notice the sun rise?

Who brings us closer to our best selves?
Do what you love, and you'll meet them.


Thursday
Jul032008

on introspection

"Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought."

A few months ago, I was having coffee with a friend, and during our conversation, she commented that sometimes it seems like I talk about myself a lot.

At first I felt hurt and disappointed because she seemed to be suggesting that I am self-absorbed and uninterested in the lives of others. But then I realized.... wow, she doesn't really know me at all. Or maybe more to the point, she is simply unfamiliar with healthy self-examination.

Perhaps my friend isn't aware that some of the most creative and insightful thinkers throughout history have spent a great deal of time studying themselves. Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Montaigne, Jung, Maslow, Einstein, and Thoreau all believed that universal truths can be found in the deepest recesses of our personalities. If we don't uncover our own secrets and biases, we'll never uncover the secrets and biases of anyone or anything else. If we only consider what is on the surface of things, we'll miss out on the depth of the world.

Simply put, if we don't take the time to think about and understand ourselves, we will probably never truly understand anyone else. Without reflecting on deeper emotional and intellectual undercurrents, our perceptions will only scratch the surface of the world around us. We will filter out what we don't want to see and only see what makes us feel comfortable. Our perception of the world and our perception of even our friends will be clouded, undeveloped, and somewhat immature, which brings me to the point I would most like to make.

There is such a thing as healthy introspection, an inner search that fosters self-understanding. And, contrary to being a selfish search, it is a foundational study - a study that can, and usually does, positively impact the lives of others.

After all, when a person says... "Can you believe that real estate developers are going to clear-cut the nature preserve and build another strip mall?" Isn't she really saying... "Some short-sighted people are going to hurt our environment yet again, and I am getting angry about that. I hope you'll agree with me, and we can be frustrated together."

Or, when a person says... "My mom has cancer." Isn't he also saying... "I'm feeling down and worried and uncertain about my mom. I really love her, and I need to feel listened to and cared about because I'm afraid that I might lose the deep maternal love that I have never lived without."

Perhaps understanding this kind of conversational subtext is the specialty of an introspective person. And, perhaps this is why so many introspective people throughout the years have also tended to make such gifted artists, writers, and thinkers.

Sometimes I find it disappointing, though not surprising, that people with certain gifts are often misunderstood and under-appreciated by people without those same gifts. I wonder if my ability to read into the deeper meaning behind my friend's accusation has also helped me realize that there are currently limits to our closeness. When she said "you talk about yourself a lot," I learned that we were operating on different wavelengths, and as I've been sharing stories about my own life, she has failed to notice that I've been doing so with the hope that we might relate to each other and that she might benefit from that exchange in some small way.

Perhaps a certain social irony exists in the world. Perhaps the people who talk about other people most of the time are, on a deeper level, essentially thinking mostly about themselves. And the people who tend to speak in the first person are actually just trying to share their own stories in an effort to relate to the people around them.

Perhaps the ultimate gift of an introspective personality is the ability to speak of oneself with another person in mind. And, perhaps an indication of a personality living an unexamined life is the inability to recognize, understand, and appreciate that gift.

Imagine if Thoreau never wrote WALDEN or CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.

When he wrote about living a simple and contemplative life in accordance with nature, was he being selfish? And when he wrote about living according to higher laws and principles, was he being a bad citizen? Was Thoreau, a person who walked alone through the woods and wrote in his private journal for hours each day, enriching his community? Or should he have given up his reading and writing, married, fathered children, attended church services, and worked at a soup kitchen during the holidays?

I hope the answers to these questions are obvious. And, I hope they might help us all reflect and consider how different personalities can be generous in different ways. Sometimes, and for some people, giving can be a truly subtle, almost invisible exercise.

In the case of Thoreau, I would argue that by following his calling and staying true to his nature, he gave much more to the world than he would have by conforming to the people surrounding him. By focusing on and developing his own, God-given talents, he was actually being the most unselfish person he could possibly be.

I believe that when we all turn inward and focus on our deepest self, we are also focusing on the deepest part of each other. And, when we focus on developing the superficial part of ourselves, we aren't really offering the world something lasting or substantial. We may make ourselves feel better temporarily. We may even impress others with our efforts. But, in the final analysis, we won't be making a significant lasting impact on our surroundings.

Thoreau, in his not-so-subtle literary way, made this same point when he wrote the following in the first chapter of WALDEN.

"There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me — some of its virus mingled with my blood."

For Thoreau and for myself, it seems unfortunate that many well-meaning people forget how we all tend to derive inner strength and self-worth from feeling capable, strong, and even self-sufficient. Charity presumes that other people are essentially weak and in need of our help. While inspiration or the act of inspiring another person by our example shows them that they have the opportunity to help themselves. Similarly, it may be worth noting that most people don't generally listen to unsolicited advice or counsel. It is a much better strategy to help another person by simply waiting for them to ask and then by guiding and encouraging them to help themselves.

People who try to save others that have not yet asked to be saved are simply trying to make themselves feel better. They are also probably unaware that their own individual "heaven" may feel like a "hell" to someone else.

I believe we are all unique people with unique paths to discover in life. While we can encourage each other with love and respect, fundamentally, we must each save ourselves, and in doing so, we can accomplish wonderful things.

Our gifts, when fully explored and developed, can enrich our communities, inspire our loved ones, and perhaps even offer an example to the friends who have yet to fully understand us.