Read Thoreau: I Learned this by my Experiment

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 track 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 distinct. 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 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 unexpected 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; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license 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 have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

From Walden Chapter 18 “Conclusion”

For Discussion and Journaling:

  • What is Thoreau saying his experiment in simple living “pond-side” allowed him to do? How did simplification help him? What emotional, spiritual, physical, ethical and other benefits did it have?
  • How does Thoreau suggest we live life? What is his main message? Why?
  • Thoreau was one person with a journal and a message to communicate. Why do you think he has had the impact he has? Is his story inspiring? How does his ability to tell his story help?
  • Have you ever had experiences that compelled you to put “some things behind” or discover “new, universal, and more liberal laws”? How did they change you?
  • Has your experiment – your environmental stewardship project – helped you pass an “invisible boundary”? In what ways? How has your environmental ethic been affected