How to free ourselves from the prison of our life, according to Henry David Thoreau

Who I am
Louise Hay

Author and references

“For an apparent destiny commonly called necessity, men dedicate themselves, according to an old book, to accumulating treasures that the moth and rust will ruin and thieves will come in to steal. This is the life of an idiot, as men will understand when they come to the end of it, if not sooner, ”wrote Henry David Thoreau, who lived almost like a hermit for two years to free himself from the prison of his life.

The son of a poor family of French immigrants, his classmates made fun of him because he couldn't buy himself a decent coat. His family prospered as the "prodigal son" applied what he had learned at Harvard to the family business, inventing a better pencil and perfecting the machine to make it. However, there was something strange in that boy who was not satisfied with the fate that had befallen him and refused to bow to the norms dictated by the society of the time.

In July 1845 he decided to break the umbilical cord. He built a cabin on Walden Lake and lived there for two years, away from everything and everyone. In his refuge he devoted himself to writing, reading, enjoying nature and, above all, reflecting. He reflected on a world where he feared that thinking was out of place.

"I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, face only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what he had to teach, without discovering, by the time he died, that he had not lived," were his words.

His concerns and reflections were as incisive and current in the mid-nineteenth century as they are today. His words are like a slap in the face for all who have become accustomed to a suffocating life full of unnecessary worries, a "life of silent despair", as he himself called it.

Tirelessly seek your own truth, do not be satisfied with the truth of others

Thoreau argues that we become slaves because we are unable to take charge of our lives. We may feel frustrated and trapped but, instead of looking for the way out, we settle for that terrible illusion called resignation. We look around and, even if we don't like many things, we console ourselves by thinking that everyone does the same. We do not understand this "evil of many, consolation of idiots".

We are convinced that the ways of thinking, feeling or acting that society has taught us are the only possible ones. And this certainty is what keeps us tied to a situation we don't like, it even produces clear discomfort or harms us. Instead of living, we survive in the small comfort zone we have built.

To get out of that vicious circle, the first step is to question everything, not take anything for granted, not even what we were taught as children or the rules, beliefs and ideas with which everyone around us is concerned. agreement.

Thoreau said, “You cannot trust any way of doing or thinking, no matter how ancient, without proof. What everyone silently chooses or accepts as an indisputable truth may become a lie tomorrow ”. Only when we begin to question things, instead of resigning ourselves to them, can we truly change. A change that leads us to self-liberation.

The path to personal freedom begins with simplicity

"Heaven is under our feet and above our heads," said Thoreau, and in these lines we can see that, despite his disillusionment with society, he was also adamant that we can be happy here and now.

The path he proposes is a meaningful life marked by simplicity: “whatever the meaning of your life, find it and live it: do not reject it […] Cultivate poverty like a garden herb. Don't worry about getting new things, clothes or friends. Things don't change, we are the ones who change. Sell ​​your clothes and treasure your thoughts. "

When Thoreau said that hoarding goods is stupid, he was referring to the fact that the psychological price we pay for these items is too high and we are often not even aware of it. "The price of a thing is the amount of life needed to buy it." How many hours of our life are we willing to waste to buy ever larger, more current or simply more beautiful technological products?

His idea that "men have become tools of their tools", slaves of the consumer society to the point of not realizing how the things they created have ended up dominating them by imposing on them what to devote their time to, is more relevant than ever. . We produce with programmed obsolescence to force us to quickly replace objects and we gladly adapt to changes in the paradigms of what is considered beautiful to continue to follow fashion anxiously.

So to keep up with the consumer society, we need to keep busy generating the wealth that we will then waste on things we don't need. The problem is that this hyperactivity actually prevents us from thinking about what we are doing with our life.

Indeed, Thoreau warns us that “it's not enough to be busy, even ants are. The question is: what are we so busy with? " This philosopher wanted us to find meaning in everything we do, a personal sense. And to investigate what we really want, we need to get rid of everything we “don't” really want. Then life takes on another perspective.

“When you simplify your life, the laws of the universe are simplified; loneliness ceases to be loneliness, poverty is no longer poverty and weakness is not weakness ”.

Embracing simplicity, being aware of all that is irrelevant and superfluous, is extremely liberating because it allows us to abandon the role of slaves and enter society as free people who hold the reins of their life and really decide what they want. And this is a huge change that not everyone has the courage to put into practice.


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