Tuesday, September 26, 2006

You can be great without being rich or athletic

Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.
- Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

Set aside what we know today that Thoreau had no way of knowing, that Columbus was a merchant explorer, not a great discoverer. Columbus is known, by reputation, rightly or wrongly, as one of the greatest explorers and discoverers of all time.

So what is he doing in your head? Maybe messing with history a bit.

Thoreau, never one for great cities, set aside the life he had known in town (Concord, MA) to build himself a little cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond. He left society for a little over two years to explore possibilities that had been suggested by his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He went to explore whole new continents and worlds within himself. In addition to becoming one of the founding fathers of the environmentalist movement in the US, he became what in our simple way of thinking we call a philosopher.

He thought about himself, about the people he had known, about life, about the relationship between people and their environment, about the future of the world. Most of what Thoreau wrote was in notebooks that survived when he died shortly after returning to town.

Thoreau was considered to be a strange duck who would rather be by himself than to be with others and have to conform to their acceptable forms of behaviour. During his lifetime, he published one book that sold poorly (200 copies) and one that received only a little more recognition (2000 copies sold). Few in his time wanted to read the words of the strange man who became a hermit in Walden Woods.

Today he is adored not as a philosopher, but more like a great poet. His thoughts are pearls that are studied by every student in the USA and in many countries of the world. His legacy of thought far exceeded his accomplishments in life.

He took time to think, to sometimes do nothing in a day but think, or to watch eggs hatch in a bird's nest. All day.

His voyage of discovery of the continents and worlds within him can be the role model for us who could only dream of emulating him. Emulating the best of him.

Alas, he died too young, likely as a result of malnutrition because he didn't eat enough. He may have thought that people could learn to survive without food if they had enough self discipline. That's one theory. If so, his final experiment was one from which we can take lessons about minimums of nutrition needed for life. All kinds of nutrition, not just bulk of food.

His greatest lesson? To me, it was to take time to think. If not, we simply follow the trail someone else has prescribed for us.

A well trod trail that is.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to encourage everyone to explore the possibilities within themselves, to break new trails by taking time to think thoughts that can only come with time.
Learn more at http://billalliin.com

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