On this day in 1854, Henry David Thoreau, the great American writer, thinker, and mystic published “Walden.” This classic book recounted his two-year experiment to live a simple life in Walden Woods.
To honor this day, we are posting the following excerpt from Mysticism in American Literature: Thoreau’s Quest and Whitman’s Self by Paul Hourihan:
Why did Thoreau go to Walden Woods?
People kept asking Thoreau: “Why did you go to the woods?”
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life [the inward facts] 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 did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear.”
…. Near the end of the last chapter in Walden, Thoreau asks his readers to discover the true problems that have concerned mankind—not what is going on in other countries, but in your own. Those who are absorbed by the question of Africa or the Mississippi or the Northwest passage, attend to those things and it will be good for them. But those who have sighted the inner continent should turn to that with equal vigor. He writes about recognizing your own streams and oceans, exploring your own higher latitudes.
Be a Columbus!
“Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought”—the thought not of the intellect, but of the deeply intuitive mind that has to be awakened as part of the life of discipline: the mind we know nothing of.
All this is strange at first. We ask—within? We enter within and find only the body and its works, the heart and lungs and so on. So sensate-oriented are we that we can’t really believe there is an infinite world within. We are identified with the body, or at best we think that the mind familiar to us in literary reflections is the real mind. In fact this is but a surface area of consciousness that we call the mind. It is when the power of the mind is turned inward—not upon things but upon itself—that the light of intuition awakens. It is not things that will awaken us, but the mind turned upon itself. The mind’s rays need to be systematically concentrated by some force—namely meditation—whereby the fire of the mind can contact the inner fire, and the two fires uniting will explode in mystical experience.
It is the fire of the soul, the fire of the mind, fused in a consummation, that makes clear in a single moment all the meaning of life.