The idea has crossed my mind more than once that Thoreau, while wildly misanthropic and oft-misguided in his efforts to find simplicity and meaning in his life, was certainly on to something. Perhaps an idea in its infancy and not yet given true form, but one that I think has lived in religious belief systems for thousands of years: that simplicity and introspection are indispensable elements in the pursuit of meaning and a personal kind of truth. That in the process of becoming unfettered physically, we become more free emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. That when we are able to divest ourselves of the excess of life, that we might be able to see what really matters to each of us individually.
When I talk to people about leaving civilization behind for even a month, it often turns into a discussion about fears, responsibilities, and judgements (often theirs).
“What will this do to your career? That sounds really irresponsible! What if you get hurt and you don’t have health insurance?!”
While founded in some level of reality, these responses and questions all belie a single inescapable truth: That no-one is able to see or understand the confusion, aimlessness, and dissatisfaction that exists in a life that is unfulfilling.
In knowing this, we have the opportunity to change it. Change is not easy–often it comes part-and-parcel with a radical shift in one’s beliefs, activity, and relationships. I’ve found that it’s generally met with ignorant derision or confusion.
“Why would you want to change everything about your life? What’s so wrong with your life right now? Isn’t any of this good enough?”
What can’t be explained, can be shown to people who are willing to see and curious enough to understand. I’m not saying that every person looking for meaning in their life has to run off to a cabin in the woods or go find themselves while living in an ashram in India… I’m saying that the people that do are seekers. Looking for a place where they can hit the pause button, a place with space to breathe, a spot in their lives where asking the difficult questions and finding meaning isn’t a reason to go running toward endless distraction (food, drugs, alcohol, unfulfilling work, empty sex or meaningless relationships)–but instead is a reason to believe that joy de vive exists.
I still believe it exists, and I want to find it. The question I am looking to answer over the next few months is “how”.