“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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” – Henry David Thoreau,
If I were forced to live alone on a deserted island and could only bring one book with me Walden would be in the pile of five I would be trying to narrow down. The book is filled with remarkable thoughts, quotes, and reflections about what it means to live in the world and outside of it as well. It is both a memoir and a spiritual quest which remains unresolved for Thoreau just as it is unresolved for me. My paperback copy, that I have had for over thirty years, is dog-eared and filled with highlighted sentences, notes and loose pages because of a broken spine from thirty years of folding and unfolding.
Of the 106,266 words contained within this wonderful book the following twelve are the words I cherish the most “Drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms”. What are the lowest terms of life? Your list may look somewhat like mine, but I am sure everyone has something a little different. My list would include words like family, love, purpose, faith and forgiveness. The basics, but honestly most of the troubles we experience in life appear when we forget about the basics.
Examining, daily, those things that are important to each of us has the potential to keep our life on track. If there are five things, five “lowest terms” that you hold sacred and non-negotiable then everything else around you is just clutter and noise. If you were to drive your life into a corner and understand what you needed in that corner with you to be happy, and not merely exist but to live, live a life full and rich, you may be very surprised at how little you require.
Needs and wants are very different. Throughout the book Thoreau reminds us of this fact. Our development as humans doesn’t evolve around the collection of stuff but through the realization and understanding that what most of us already have is enough. We overlook the simple, the obvious, either by taking it for granted or by not acknowledging that we already have it until we lose it. “Drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms” you may be surprised by what you find.
“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” – Henry David Thoreau