The Search for Simplicity: Rereading Walden By Henry David Thoreau

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Just some quick reflections today… I’m currently rereading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It is the first time I’ve picked it up in over 20 years. There is much to admire about the work. Its writing is clear, concise, and occasionally brilliant. Its message around thriftiness and simplicity is much needed in a world of excess and greed. That Thoreau is a bit ostentatious, and his brand of spirituality seems to want to show off his purity is a flaw I’m willing to overlook. 

I wanted to briefly discuss this quote, “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.” I’ve had the feeling that today’s world can be too complex for the human brain. Everyone seems to be suffering from an overload of anxiety or burnout, including myself. Even technology, which supposedly makes our lives easier, is a constant source of stress. The constant emails and text messages are a barrage to our brains. We are under assault by the cult of productivity and narcissism.

All this tells me that Thoreau has the right idea about how to live. Of course, most of us can go into the woods today and live off the land as a squatter, although some have tried. But Thoreau understood how important nature is to our souls. The calm and quiet of the ocean or forest have given me much solace during hard times. And as I’ve gotten off of social media and deleted my email from my phone, I’ve felt less of an addiction to my own. Simplicity in today’s world, I think, means to disconnect from technology, connect with nature and find out what we value most. 

This disconnection from technology and connection to nature has reorientated my life. I spend most of my days reading, meditating, writing, or out in the world, biking, running, or walking. I spend my free time with my wife cooking a nice meal or trying to just hang out and talk. Still, I certainly stare at screens too much. It is hard not to in today’s world. But it is a start. And I encourage you all to draw your limits around technology and find some simplicity in your life. It is the only road to contentment that seems worthwhile to me. 

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