“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.” – Henry David Thoreau
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau
I read these words for the first time in high school when we read Walden and not a day has gone by since that I don’t think about them. Thoreau put into words my greatest fear. So much of what I do is driven by a response to this fear. Of all the criticisms and slanders you could throw my way, none would cut as deep as one associating me with “quiet desperation.” Thoreau wrote about living life to the fullest and living in the moment. He wrote in Walden, “Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.”
The truest tragedies are always existential ones. To come to the end of your life only to discover that you had not lived – surely this would be greatest tragedy. I would endure any eternity of fire and brimstone rather than suffer this final realization. So, I occupy much of my life trying run from this inescapable fear. I am finding as I get older that “quiet desperation” means something different depending on your decade of reflection. It used to mean something much more literal. To ensure I wouldn’t go silently into the great night I traveled and jumped out of airplanes and went to lots of parties. I see this as a rather shallow interpretation of Thoreau’s words. Being alone with yourself night after night, no distractions … only silence and sounds of nature deep in the woods must give life an amazing new perspective.
Jung said that all psychological disturbances were spiritual in nature. I think this is absolutely true. I think that it is possible to find meaning and perspective without taking a couple of years off of work and disconnecting from your loved ones to go live in a forest somewhere. This was one man’s path. Everyone must find their own way. A person’s path is as unique as their personality. I try every day to make sure I’m following my path. I know when I’m on it because I have a sense of inner peace unlike anything that can be tithed from a church, purchased at a pharmacy, or accessed with an ATM. I love those days when I’m truly thankful for being here. I hope with all my heart that I will have more of those days than not … so that when I give back my last breath, I can die peacefully knowing that I lived my life to the fullest knowing that at least one life has breathed easier because I have lived.