Be determined not to curse anything outside, not to lay the blame upon any one outside, but be a man, stand up, lay the blame on yourself. You will find that is always true. Get hold of yourself. -Swami Vivekananda
If you haven’t already realized as you read through the history of this blog, improving yourself through struggle, educating yourself constantly and living a non-duplicitous day-to-day makes you strong enough to become the leader of your life. You don’t have to lead anyone else. The idea here is that you improve yourself, you live that way and peace comes from within as if you drank some sort of magical potion.
It’s counterintuitive to think about how struggle is good and brings eustress in our lives. Eustress is the kind of struggle that when dealt with appropriately, builds us up over time to make us as strong as a pillar. Once you start shifting from, “I hope today is easier than yesterday,” to, “Give me your best shot, life,” then you are on your way to using challenges to your benefit instead of letting them tear you down. Oddly enough that is our purpose in life, and whether you do it alone, with your spouse or with God through religion, doesn’t really matter. The thing about religion is, you aren’t leaving everything up to the deity; you actually have to put in the work to succeed. In that way the two paths of success—going at it alone or with aid—are similar. Either way you have to dig deep and work hard at it.
The post for today:
I have been reading Walden by H.D. Thoreau and can’t help but write about it. There’s nothing more meaningful than spending time alone in the woods and collecting wisdom from within yourself. This wisdom is brought out by nature, its calm attitude has a way of reflecting that which we seek in ourselves.
Thoreau uses the term “Sense of duty” a few times throughout the book which is something I have written on before. Man’s call to duty or service to himself and those closest to him will lead to a satisfying life experience. A selfish life is not necessarily one that doesn’t involve anyone else, it simply means one does not live with self-respect or honor. Damage to ones own self is indeed selfish as he is the very thing worth saving.
His thoughts on the cabin morning routine he went through for two years:
I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went.
The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday, forward for to-morrow, and overhead for the passing day.” This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove his indolence.-Thoreau
Can you imagine? Getting away from the rush of life to find that the very faculty that causes peace of mind lies right within you. We don’t need to go anywhere really, what we need to do is observe what goes on around us. You can find peace in the middle of New York City or in the desert of Arizona, the difference is what you are aware of. Of course, we need to start with the hardness level on easy and work our way up; but there isn’t any excuse.
Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence—that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime.
By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit every where, which still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure. I have read in a Hindu book, that “there was a king’s son, who, being expelled in infancy from his native city, was brought up by a forester, and, growing up to maturity in that state, imagined himself to belong to the barbarous race with which he lived. One of his father’s ministers having discovered him, revealed to him what he was, and the misconception of his character was removed, and he knew himself to be a prince. So soul,” continues the Hindu philosopher, “from the circumstances in which it is placed, mistakes its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahman.” I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that, that is which appears to be. -Thoreau
The profound depth that Thoreau reaches in Walden is oceanic. To dive deep into one’s mind and come out wiser is rare indeed. There’s a Stoic-like realm to Walden, and specifically you can see it in the quote above. Man is bombarded with life like wave after wave crashing into his consciousness, that he hardly has time to grasp air before he is smacked down again. Without going anywhere we can start to observe and pause, observe and pause. Try this: the next time someone speaks to you, don’t say anything. Just gather your thoughts and remember that what’s happening is an appearance, it is outside yourself. Usually when we speak after pausing we engage someone on a deeper level with more respect. Our first reactions to something can be the worst, as if the interlocutors of our life are out to get us in some contrivance of theirs.
The Stoic philosophy saved my life some years ago. The fact that nothing outside myself could cause me to suffer was so liberating, I keep the philosophy with me and attempt to use it each moment. Sometimes I miss the mark, but that learning is part of life. As long as we are aware of the struggle being good for our progress then we never struggle in vain. If someone wasn’t aware enough then they might sweep more junk under the rug or behind the t.v. But, when you are always observant, even in a fiery rain of emotional entanglements, there is a lesson to be taken away.