“I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.” – Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN
Thoreau went out to Walden Pond in the summer of 1845. It was his desire to live simply on the land in a cabin of his own construction, to be free from distraction for an extended period of time. He was there for more than two years, isolated, and he observed the natural rhythms of the land and within himself. As he looked deeper he found himself thinking in more intellectual and moral terms. It was a transcendent experience for him. Many lessons can be learned from WALDEN. Many more can be found by looking inside of ourselves.
I’m not suggesting that you move out to the hinterlands, build yourself a cabin and live off the land, though I do think the idea is appealing. I fight the urge to drop out on an almost daily basis. The appeal relates to the ability to totally lose myself in nature, much like Thoreau did. The anchor that keeps me attached to society is my newfound love of my community. So instead I lose myself in reading, writing and staring deeply into the abyss of my soul. I find that the longer I stare the more light that I see there, almost like fluorescent lichens living on the walls of a bottomless cave. So today I think about living in Concord and what that means to all of us.
Living in Concord is my witty attempt to play on with the word harmony, for which concord is a synonym. With a few simple changes in our lives we can all live in concordance with nature and lessen our physical and psychic effects on our community and world. This is more an outline than a blueprint. Many of my friends are farther along the path than I will ever be, so I hope that they will feel free to correct and expound upon my concepts.
- Conservation – We all have the ability to be more conscious in our consumption. The simple solution is to buy only what you need, share what you don’t use and recycle all of the rest. Reduce your carbon footprint by keeping the thermostat at the lowest tolerable temperature, turn the air conditioning off and rip off the knob, connect all your electronics (if you must have them) to power strips that can be turned off with the flick of a switch.
- Nutrition – How often do you take a hard look at what you put into your body? Do you eat a lot of processed and fast foods? If so, do you notice where your energy levels are when you are done? I know I feel bogged down and lethargic? At least I did when I was still eating that stuff. Everyone is not inclined to be a vegetarian, but do you really have to eat meat at every meal. Do you restrict your portion sizes? Do you think about what goes into the making of your food? It takes roughly nine pounds of grains and one hundred fifty gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, four quarter pound burgers. I don’t know about you, but I can live for a long time on nine pounds of grain. Do you take notice of the packaging of your foods? Where they are made? Of who makes them? That leads us to:
- Consumerism – Who made that product that you hold in your hand? Was it made in the USA? Is it local or multinational? How many miles did it travel to land in your hand? Is it fair trade? What do the dollars that you spend go to support? Is the company politically active? Do you ask yourself why they feel the need to be? I’m focused on hyper-localism. Since I ride a bike that makes it really easy. I have fired many former companies that I used to be loyal to, like Giant Eagle, AT&T, Chase Bank, and others, because of their business and political practices, and replaced them with local entities that funnel my dollars right back into my community. A dollar spent in a non-local company is an eighty cents that leaves your local economy (factoring the local labor).
- Transportation – Ask yourself these questions. Have you arranged your life to harmonize with nature? Did you plan your home location around your work or vice versa? Do you get in the car and drive when you could just as easily walk or bike there? Do you need a car at all? Do four other people from your neighborhood all work at the same place and yet all drive separate? My goal is to reduce my transportation cost to zero. I’m close. I’ll update with my total at the end of the month.
- Relationships – I am probably the last guy to be giving anyone relationship advice. I like to think that my ship has sailed and that I have wasted all of my wonderful opportunities. We’ll see. In the meantime, I will tell you what I have learned. Any good love match has to be a partnership. You can feel the attraction, maybe it’s physical or intellectual, but that is only the key that unlocks the door. To get fully immersed, you have to get away from the “what’s in this for me” mentality. I was that guy who was skeptical to the point of pushing people away, not allowing anyone inside my shield. But once I got the key in the door I gave one hundred percent of myself and expected the same, to the exclusion of all else. Invariably it was great for a while, but it devolved into hurt, jealousy and rage. I couldn’t see beyond my own needs. In order to live in harmony, both people have to go into it with open eyes, be completely honest and be willing to cooperate on all things. Sometimes that means giving your mate their space, other times it means letting her know that you need some to. No recriminations, no ulterior motives, just complete honesty and cooperation. If you are only in it for yourself, it will never be all that it could be.
- Friendships – “You are the average of the five people who you spend the most time with.” ~ Jim Rohn Businessman and motivational speaker. If so, are any of the five dragging down your average with pessimism, negativity and the three poisons (greed, anger, ignorance)? If so, are they worth salvaging? I was that guy for a large portion of my life. I lost a lot of friends along the way because I couldn’t see past the poisons that made me toxic to my community. Fortunately there was at least one friend who thought that I was worth saving. Every time I started to float away into self-destruction, he reeled me back from the edge. To a certain extent, I owe him the life that I have now. With that being said, I think it’s counter-productive to try to save everyone that you meet. I was that guy too, the one that collected the misfits to my professional and personal detriment. Examine your relationships to see if they help or hinder your harmony.
- Nature – As city-dwellers, we tend to discount nature. This is a shame. Nature is truly all around us. One of the coolest things that I’ve done over the last few weeks was to take a nature walk with a couple of guys who are well versed in urban foraging. We walked the alleys of Victorian Village and picked various “weeds” and sampled compared the flavors of the different plant families. Who knew? And why didn’t you tell me? I have been living within one hundred yards of the Olentangy River for four years. I had no idea of the cornucopia that is literally at my feet. This is because I didn’t take the time to look. As I dedicate myself to a simpler life, I notice the squirrels scampering, the birds swooping, the flowers blooming and the insects crawling. Life is booming all around me and I never noticed. When you dedicate yourself to conscious harmony, these things become abundant gifts in your life. I truly believe that all of the answers to all, of our problems are in view if we open our eyes. We can be powered by wind, sun and water. We can cure cancer and all of the other things that ail us with nature’s bounty. All we have to do is seek and we will find.
- Activism is a big buzzword in these trying times that we are in. I probably use it too much myself, but activism takes on many forms. It can be as simple as telling your neighbor what your local representative voted for or warning your friend how many calories are in that value meal. As you become more in tune with what is going on around you, it is natural to want to pick up the trash that someone else dumped, to take your shopping dollar elsewhere when your merchant does wrong, to walk to that quarter-mile instead of driving and to purchase the organic version of that produce for a few extra pennies. Activism is inspiring your friends to do the same. Activism is speaking up when you see an injustice rather than going about your business. Activism is finding another job when you find out that your company is contributing to war, pollution or some other ideology that you don’t subscribe to. The Buddha spoke specifically on right profession. You should have a job that you can be proud of, that represents your values and that also operates in harmony with nature.
You don’t have to move out to the wilderness to live in Concord. All you have to do is open up your five senses and experience nature all around you. The ancients had it right. They followed the seasons. They took what they needed and left the rest for another time. They used every part of every plant and animal that they needed for survival. The only thing preventing us from doing the same is our dependence on convenience. It has made us fat and dumb. It is time to go back to the soil.