Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Deliberate Life


I originally wanted to call this blog “The Deliberate Life” after my favorite paragraph in Walden. However, a quick Google search convinced me otherwise. It would seem that quite a few people have latched onto this title for everything from touchy-feely “follow your dreams” blogs to hardcore self-sufficiency, homesteading guides. Although I thoroughly enjoyed learning about whether the Rapture would happen before we have to weave our own clothing, how to survive an animal attack, and the best ways to “pack heat in an urban setting,” I thought I should probably go in a different direction. And so, The Adventure Partners was born.

If I can’t name my blog after Thoreau’s idea, I’m at least going to devote one post to it. The first sentence is the most often quoted portion of the paragraph:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I think this is everyone’s favorite part not only because it is beautifully written, but because it’s an idea than everyone can get behind. Who doesn’t want to live life to the fullest and on their deathbed be satisfied that they’d done all they could? The rest of the paragraph is slightly more wordy and difficult:

I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

In this section, we’re introduced to the idea that it’s necessary to step out of our comfort zone and risk our happiness in order to understand our lives on our own terms. Whether his experiment proved life to be mean or sublime, Thoreau would know it for himself.   I think this section is less quoted because it involves doing something, and there’s a very good chance that something will suck.

Not only that, this section is longer and for many people, boring. In fact, most of Walden is like that. For every easy sentence such as “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” there’s an equal amount of asking, “How much longer is he going to write about the goddamn ants?” and “There’s no way this entire chapter is about the bean field.” Walden, like life, can’t be condensed into a few catchy lines to be shared on Twitter. There are long, difficult portions that aren’t pleasant, and there are parts that are boring, but it’s all part of a larger whole. Thoreau knew this, and made fun of the average man’s reading habits in the book:

Most men are satisfied if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the wisdom of one good book, the Bible, and for the rest of their lives vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading.

It’s a shame he can’t be here today to see that what he called “easy reading” we call “Jersey Shore” and “Hoarders.” Oh, how the mighty intellectuals have fallen.

It’s not that vegetating on our chosen easy reading is a problem; it’s that we also have to make time to ask ourselves the difficult questions. We have to make a mess of things and wade through the boring bits without giving ourselves a hard time about it. To walk through the whole twisted thing, from the highest moments of ecstasy to the slowest Thursday afternoons, creates a truly deliberate life. And if all else fails, the Rapture should take care of the rest.

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