“ 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.”
We’ve all probably heard this quotation by Thoreau at some point. One of my favorite jokes is telling people how glad I am to have it as an answer when people ask why I like sleeping on the ground in the outdoors, if only because it’s a better answer than “I just really hate showering and answering my phone”.
Truthfully though, the line is well known for a reason and I’ve been thinking a lot about the question it brings to mind. What’s “living deliberately” look like?
Is it just thinking completely about every action before you take it? Doubtfully so. Were this the case, why did our buddy HDT have to head out into the woods to find it? I think there’s more to be said about the involvement of mind and body in each action and activity you involve yourself in each day. Simpler ways of doing things force you to be deliberate about them, and in my humble opinion, bring greater joy at having been done.
Let’s elaborate on that line of thinking a bit. I’m no expert on happiness, or on social commentary by any means. However I am an experienced observer of my own bad habits. The worst of these come from moments of idleness, and that idleness is usually helped into the world by technology and more “efficient” ways of doing things.
Now, I’m no “cell phones are making us dumb, kill ’em!” sort. I’m actually thinking of a much less harped on machine. Your washer and dryer.
Bear with me for a second.
So, if we want to live deliberately that means being fully invested in all we do. This is a great motivational quote when applied loosely to broad topics like career paths, or a weekend hike that’s a great photo opportunity and needs a quote for your Instagram post, etc. But on a day to day basis it seems to be asking us to do more work. Outlandish. Unthinkable.
Until you start to peel that particularly off-putting onion. The same amount of work is being done, the difference is that you’re doing it, and your mind and body are fully engaged. So let’s get back to the washer/dryer bit. Since the weather broke I’ve been doing my laundry in a home depot bucket. I’ve got a makeshift washboard and a pole for agitation, and when I’m done I hang it all out to dry. So the physical part of this is obvious, but it’s also mentally engaging. You don’t plan a day for laundry. You wait until the sun’s out, and the weather is nice enough. Even while working on other things, the back burner of your mind is looking for the right day.
That’s one example, but it brings us to the broader point I’m trying to make. Western culture loves “efficiency”. The idea that as things improve we get more free time. Time for liesure, socializing etc. So if we’re getting more and more efficient, and supposedly have more and more free time, why are we the most overworked, and unhappy we’ve ever been as a culture?
Editor’s note; Woah there Christopher. That’s a bigger question than your able to answer, maybe ease u- (at this point the writer stuffed his editor into his washbucket)
I don’t have all the answers to that, but I do think that a lot of the time we’ve “freed” ends up going to waste on trivial things, and things like television and Wikipedia wormholes that, while fine in their own right, end up keeping us from more important things. If you’ve been involved in every task you’ve undertaken that day, instead of having them done via satellites and cogs, I’d be willing to bet that the sleep you’re missing out on because you just HAVE to click the next link on that wiki about the swamp apes of southern America will feel much better, or the phone ringing to invite you out with a group of friends will be a welcome change instead of a social obligation.
And yes, that swamp ape example is based in fact.
So live a little more deliberately somehow today. Don’t buy the precut salad mix, take the raw vegetables home and enjoy the moments of engagement while you cut them. Ask a friend to help change your car’s oil instead of paying someone to do it. Turn everything you can into some act of defiance against the idea that free time is the goal. Fill out every day, and squeeze 63 seconds out of every minute.
(At this point the editor has asked that I stop speaking like some sort of snake oil salesman)
Basically. Just do stuff for yourself and enjoy having done it.
Cranky bones, out.