The Wisdom Of Thoreau and Modern Slavery.

From The Desk of Maverick Brenton.
Subject: Henry David Thoreau and Modern Day Slavery.


Lately, when I haven’t been working on a novel, pouring beers, or lifting weights – I have been wandering into the woods, below a mountain near my home.

Often I take a cigar with me, and I sit by a little creek that runs along the base of the mountain.

I don’t take my phone, or anything else that can distract me.

All I carry with me is my matches, and my cigar, a notepad, a pen, and the  book I am currently reading:

Walden, written by Henry David Thoreau.

This particular book has been on my reading list for a long time, but I’ve been putting it off and off, for months, reading other material, or working on other things.

Until recently, when I found it, whilst looking in the local book store.

So I bought it, and boy o boy am I glad that I did.

Sitting by the creek, below the mountain, shortly after I purchased the book – I began reading it, and the things that Thoreau spoke of, resonated with me deeply.

I found myself nodding as I read his work, and feeling pleased, that a man from many years ago had thought and noticed the same things that myself and many others today, think and notice.

In his late twenties, faced with the same pressure we experience today regarding the selection of a career, and the particular course we are supposed to take through life – Thoreau decided that he wanted something different.

He looked around, and seen that the majority of people in his time, were nothing but slaves to their lifestyles, and their possessions.

They worked away, from dawn till dusk, all year round, in order to afford their lavish homes and clothes and material possessions, of which they rarely owned outright, upon obtaining them.

And therefore back then, just as today, the majority were owned by their possessions.

”Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labours of life that it’s finer fruits cannot be plucked by them….

He continues:

”He has no time to be anything but a machine..”

Seeing what was in store for him if he took the conventional path in life – Thoreau rebelled.

He decided that he would live the simplest life possible, deep in the woods, within a small hut by Walden Pond.

Thoreau built the hut himself, by cutting down tree’s with borrowed tools, and labouring away in the wood’s, day and night – only working occasionally, to support himself financially as he built his home.

He cooked his food on an open fire, outside in the fresh air.

And his food consisted of the simplest and plainest foods that he could obtain.

Once his home was built – Thoreau began to think about, and write, the book I am sharing with you now.

And so, out in nature with no distractions, free to think and be alone with himself, Thoreau began to ponder the question of what a man should do with his life, he wondered why people chose to live like slaves, and why they all considered it to be normal.

Even in his time, people worked their entire life to build their fortunes, to acquire big homes and bigger lifestyles – then they just, died.

It appeared then, as it appears now, that the aim of most people’s lives, is no aim at all.

What good is a huge house, an expensive wardrobe, and a pocket heavy with coin, if you are too old and too worn out from working, to enjoy it?

This is one of the questions he asked himself whilst he lived in the woods.

And the conclusion he came too, was a conclusion very similar to my own.

Generally, there is no good to it, and it’s a waste of a man’s life, unless there is a deeper purpose driving his pursuit.

Little is needed to live the good life, and immense wealth is not required to live a good life.

Therefore, to slave away for years and years, in order to obtain things that serve no purpose other than the purpose of making you appear to be wealthy – this is pointless, because those things are pointless.

Instead, as Thoreau concluded, and I believe, it is much wiser and much more productive to think deeply about what you really want out of this life, and then devote yourself to it’s accomplishment, despite what anyone might think of it.

As he points out in his book, and as I have talked about on this blog – all people have their own particular path to follow in life.

Your path is not anyone else’s path, it is your own, and to find it you must be alone with yourself and learn to listen to yourself.

I think growing up, we lose our voice, and we lose our self, amidst the mass of voices that we call public opinion, group think, or conventional wisdom.

When we think, or at least attempt to think – we do not hear the voice that is unique, and that is our own, instead we hear the chaotic chatter of everything we have been taught, and told, by those we grew up around

The conditioning of our childhood, does our thinking for us.

Learning to pierce through this chatter, and find our way back to the roots of who we truly are, is not something that is easy to do, especially so when you are surrounded by people who all think and act the same.

Humans are social creatures, we always have been, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Back in Thoreau’s time and even further back, if you stepped off the well-worn path and decided to think for yourself, you were ridiculed and judged by the majority, for your difference.

Often, it is those who are closest to you that are the most dangerous – for it’s those you love, whose words hold the most weight.

This is why it takes courage to stand out.

It takes thick skin, deaf ears and a strong belief in yourself.

Today it is no different. People haven’t changed. Our nature will never change.

We are the same now, as we were a hundred years ago – we’re pack animals, sheep – but unlike sheep, we can choose to be different, we can choose to become individuals.

This choice is a choice that we must make if we wish to fully live life, and discover the extent of our gifts.

But the majority will not make that choice.

Thoreau knew this.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation..”

When I read those words, I related to them with crystal clear clarity – knowing in my heart, exactly what he was talking about, and remembering a time when my own life was lived in quiet desperation.

This was before I decided to write novels, and it was before I started this blog.

I was working seven days a week in construction, from dusk until dawn, just because I thought I had to, and because I was afraid of what people would think of me, if I quit.

It took me years to make the leap.

Some fella’s love working with their hands for a living, but deep down in my own heart, whilst behind the shovel and on the tools – I desired a life with more time to think, more time to explore, and more time to be myself.

I had no idea that I wanted to write, back then.

Writing was only discovered after I quit construction and took the time to really listen to myself.

But what I did know, is that I was tired of trying to fit into something I was not supposed to fit into .

I was tired of wearing a mask.

What kept me doing what I hated doing for so long?

The same thing that keeps most people doing what they hate, often forever – and that thing is called fear.

Fear of judgement, primarily.

That’s what it was for me.

I was afraid of what the older people in my life would think if I quit – I was afraid of their judgement.

Living in the woods by Walden Pond, Thoreau noticed the same thing, and he felt the same thing.

Here are his thoughts on the matter:

”What everybody echoes (speaks about) or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilising rain on their fields…”

He continues:

“What old people say you cannot do, you try and find you can….I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose.”

These words hit me like a tonne of bricks, as I thought back to my own experiences of following the advice of older, well meaning people.

Seldom do they know what is the best course of action for you, or anyone else, and their own lives often provide proof of this, as they do not have what they really want.

But they will, like most people, provide you with plenty of advice on what you should do with your life.

Personally, I do not listen to anyone who does not have a life which I would not trade my own for.

And there is good reason for this.

An individuals outward circumstances are nothing more than a manifestation of what is inside their mind, and therefore, if you do not want what a particular individual has in their life, you should not listen to their advice – for their advice is what got them, what they have.

My experience has confirmed this.

Whenever I speak to people who have what I want, and who live life on their terms – doing what they want, when they want to do it – I like what they say.

Whenever I speak to people who don’t have what I want, and who live like the majority – what they say, and how they think, makes me feel uneasy on the inside.

Now why is that?

It’s because I am not one of them, and neither was Thoreau.

Yet the greatest struggle in differentiating yourself from the majority, and becoming a true individual, is the struggle with your own mind.

Your opinion of yourself, dictates who you will become.

So what do you think of yourself?

This is of great importance, because you will become whatever you think about most of the time.

When you disregard conventional wisdom, and the conventional way of living – to honour the mysterious voice within, that is you, it is easy to doubt yourself, to become depressed, and to often, go insane.

I tell you this from personal experience.

There are times when I feel on top of the world, when my writing is going well, and my life is in order.

But there are also times when I feel depressed, lonely and completely fucking lost.

Those are the times when my self-belief and my faith aren’t so strong.

And those are the times when I have to be very careful, regarding who I listen to, and what I read – because I am easily thrown off course when I lose my inner strength. 

The writing of my first novel, which was completed earlier this year, and which took almost a full year to complete, was both the most miserable and exhilarating experience of my life.

At times, I existed in another world, and I was living within my imagination, as I did when I was a young boy.

Then, I would crash.

My mind would drive me insane.

Thoughts of self-doubt, and the incessant questioning of my chosen path – would plague me for a few days, until it passed.

These thoughts are made worse when you have seen no success, as I have not, because it is much easier to believe those thoughts, when behind you rests months of work, in front of you remains months of work, and in your pocket are no fruits of your labour.

All you have then, is the vision.

And you must do the work for the sake of the work, not for reward, or for attention.

Sitting down and writing was the only thing that made me feel better, when I fell into a hole.

It split the eternal fog before me, allowed me to see the finish line, and reminded me that no matter how bad I felt – I had to work, I had to write, I had to do what I was born to do.

So that’s what I did. Day in and day out. Until I was finished.

And so, when you are alone and battling against your mind, you get to experience what it is really like to walk your own path.

You’re fighting an invisible enemy. You cannot see him. And you cannot land a punch on him.

In my experience, all you can do is take the hits, and wait for him to leave you alone.

It can be a very miserable experience, trying to become something that you can only see in your mind – but on the other side of that misery is who you have the potential to be, and with that, comes a life that most people only dream about.

As Thoreau speaks of, in his book, it takes self-belief, courage and inner strength to remain an individual amongst the masses, and it is what you think of yourself, that determines your fate.

He states:

“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”

Do you understand what he is saying?

If you are easily swayed by the opinions of other people, you’re not going to last, son.

You’ll give in.

You’ll give up.

And you will find yourself on the side of the majority – a cog in someone else’s machine.

When your thoughts are right, when you have the right attitude, and when you see yourself as you wish to be with crystal clear clarity, the facts don’t count.

The opinions of others do not count.

You will get what you want.

And it will come to you as though it is looking for you.

But you must be able to keep your mind in the right place, for a long enough duration, and that is very difficult to do.

I haven’t finished this book yet, and I am only a third of the way through – but I will continue to read it by the creek below the mountain, each day after I have worked.

These days, a lot of non-fiction books are garbage, and written only to make money for the writer – they’re not written from a position of true insight.

And you can pick them by the cover if you know how to.

They use catchy headlines, and just smell like bullshit.

If you want true insight, you must read books written by people who had true insight, and wisdom.

Read the books that have stood the test of time. Books that are hundreds of years old. Books by great thinkers, great doers, and those, whose names are remembered, centuries later.

I hope this article has given you something of value, challenged your way of thinking, or inspired the desire for a more fulfilling life, within you.

Until Next Time.

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