“The scenery at Walden is on a humble scale . . . yet this pond is so remarkable for its depth and Purity as to merit a particular description . . . Walden is blue at one time and green at another, even from the same point of view. Lying beneath the earth and the heavens, it partakes of the color of both.” (Thoreau, p. 115)
The small passage that Thoreau wrote was an observation of the beautiful pond outside his cabin door. If we look close, there is a deeper meaning behind the verses. This passage spoke to me that Walden Pond is a portrait of awareness. Only when we are in a state of awareness can we become remarkable for our depth and purity. We become as transparent as the lake. Our colors are ever adjusting and being made more beautiful by the lights of this world. We become a part of a higher understanding; a wisdom that we can share with all around us. Through the depths of Thoreau’s writings in Walden, he found peace and wisdom not in a classroom, nor social circles, but in in the limitless beauty of nature. Nature is seeking to provide us the answers to life. Wisdom will tell us that through the simplistic, yet contemplative observation of our natural elements, the universe, God, and our world are offering us a pathway to peace and understanding. There is a verse from the Bible that speaks of this natural truth revealed:
“For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by nature, even his eternal power and Godhead” (Aitken,Romans 1:21)
What Thoreau learned in those five years of solitude amongst nature was that understanding and wisdom are ever freely given. Sometimes the wisdom of man is not really wisdom at all. Thoreau was constantly bombarded with the social matters and obligations of 19th century Concord, Massachusetts. Social norms and mores, though considered prudent and proper, were not ideas that had much meaning to Thoreau. He longed to seek out a wisdom of his own; a deep seeded wisdom that he believed had been lost amongst his townsmen. This kind of contemplative self-awareness was rare for the time and is sadly still very rare today. Thoreau did find his peace in the cabin in the woods. He gained an understanding that will be passed on for generations to come. His revealing observations, metaphors, and analogies about nature brought me a deep understanding and appreciation for my God given life. While reading his work, I was brought to my knees at the altar of nature. There is an important lesson to learn from Walden. Even though not everyone has the luxury of abandoning society for solitude in the woods, through Thoreau’s use of language and metaphors, we see that peaceful solitude is really a state of mind. In an article entitled, “Imaginative Wisdom,” the author states this:
“A work of the imagination is inherently an untruth, yet it is one that reveals a truth. A painting, a poem, or a dance is trying to express something important about the human condition, a truth that is revealed through intuition and feeling. The creator engages in logical and analytical thinking, too, but the act of creation is fueled by our capacity to intuit knowledge and beauty, to imagine what is not and never has been through a faculty different from reason” (Valois, 2015).
Our imaginations allow us to be creative, to see our surroundings differently, to confront the truth in a way we can relate to and understand. This type of truth comes from a state of awareness. When we are self-aware, we journey on a path of truth. Through the discovery of truth about ourselves, we learn to make peace with our weaknesses and we learn how to feed our strengths. Through this awareness, we reconnect with nature on a Godly level. This nature connection brings us to such a divine companionship with our creator, that we want others to find it as well. The next stage after our self- discovery is our discovery of the beauty in the world around us. Everything we see, everyone we meet becomes an interconnected metaphor for the wisdom of life. Through the beauties and sorrows of life we learn to make peace with ourselves, God, nature, and others. When we accept this peace, we can begin to flourish in our lives and make lasting and effective changes in the world around us. In the Serenity prayer that is prayed traditionally by people in dire circumstances, it says these words:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace” (www.prayers-for-special-help.com).
Though Thoreau’s pathway to peace was found amongst the flora and fauna of the Walden Pond woods, a similar peace can be found even in the harshest conditions. Ghandi, for example, had a harsher environment to live in; however, his unwavering wisdom and strength led his people to independence from British Imperialism. The key element we find in a man or woman of great wisdom is that they have an innate desire to learn and understand. They have a deeper thought process that allows them to strive for enlightenment. They live their lives to the fullest with little regard of how they appear to others. Their wisdom drives them to know their environment and the people around them on a deep level. This knowing inspires empathy in a way that provokes change and revolution when injustices occur.
How does a person become wise exactly? In a story from the Bible, King Solomon asked God for the wisdom to lead the people of Israel. God said to him,
“Because you had this in mind, and did not ask for riches, wealth or honor, or the life of those who hate you, nor have you even asked for long life, but you have asked for yourself wisdom and knowledge that you may rule My people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge have been granted to you” ( Aitken, 2 Chronicles 1:11).
In the story, Solomon gained wisdom because it was the deepest desire of is heart. He valued wisdom far above anything else. He sought out the source of what he believed to be the ultimate force of wisdom in our universe. It is because of his steadfast desire that he obtained this wisdom and ruled God’s people for many years. Others who have found wisdom have gained it by similar pursuits. Thoreau, for example, attained his wisdom by abandoning the confines of everyday city life. Thoreau sought to find some wisdom in the solitude of nature.
“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 practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” (Thoreau, p. 59).
Like Thoreau, Ghandi sought wisdom. From a very young age, Ghandi strived to live by a strict moral code. He fell away and was influenced in his earlier days by a few bad sources, but then was reawakened to the importance of living a life steeped in a state of awareness. Ghandi turned away from these bad influences and began to search for wisdom. It is through this wisdom that Ghandi founded one of his most noted ideas: non-violent protest. This type of protest was an idea he formed from his extensive research of religious and contemplative studies remote from the public affairs of men and state. His stance on non-violence was also related to the cultural romantic movement in Europe at the time during the industrial civilization (Ghandi’s Integrity, 2001). Through his journey of discovery, Ghandi was able to learn from different ideas and concepts around him. He was wise enough to know that he was not the know all and be all. He sought wisdom wherever he could find it. As the Father of Modern Medicine, William Osler once said, “Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; Wisdom is humble that he knows no more” (Burns, 2003).
Those who strive to find a deeper understanding and wisdom seek out situations, environments, and people that will feed this knowledge and help them grow as a person. In an article entitled, “The Theology of Wisdom,” the author writes, “We can start to consider the possibility of wisdom as the first expression of how God and creation understand each other, i.e. that God demonstrates how we acquire wisdom, through interacting with creation. Exegetically we have been left with evidence which suggests that wisdom is not merely a literary device, but has a real function in the world with its own hypostasis, yet is not ontologically equal with God” (McNamara, 2015).
Whether one believes in a God or not, one can still appreciate the vastness of our unknowing. Though we can search for it, the closest we may ever come is through nature. In Walden, Thoreau is giving constant allegorical metaphors about the qualities of nature that teach us about life. It is through these comparisons that the wisdom is passed on to future generations.
“How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living . . . to survey the earth with a telescope and not with the natural eye . . . or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar . . . Even the poor student studies and is only taught the political economy, while that economy of living which is synonymous with philosophy is not even sincerely professed in our colleges” (Thoreau, p. 33).
Though there are wonderful institutions such as Prescott College that promote self-awareness and oneness with nature, the vast majority do not. Thoreau’s writing is calling to the reader to seek out the secret of life and he points toward nature. It is through nature that we learn about the nature of humanity. Like the seasons, our lives are ever changing. Sometimes we go through periods of wintery despair, while others are full of warm sunshine. In all its intricacies, nature is forever teaching.
Those who pursue wisdom are in a state of self-awareness. In this awareness, the seeker understands the suffering of life to be a pathway to understanding and sees themselves a part. The beauty of knowing the nature of suffering is that it isn’t constant. Someday the suffering will cease, as nature shows us through natural disasters. For example, hurricanes attack the South-Eastern shores of the United States almost every year. Some damage usually occurs, sometimes more severely than others, however, we know that the waters always recede and the sun will always shine again. Because the wise understand this concept, it is only natural for them to want to help others find this same clarity and peace. In some cases, when disaster and strife can be prevented, the wise are pillars of strength who lead people against injustice. For example, Ghandi was instrumental in his country’s independence from British rule. It was because of his mobilization and unity amongst classes against the British that the nationals were able to organize and promote a state of non-violent civil disobedience against the British Imperialists. Wise people make wonderful leaders because their cause is selfless and those who follow them can be sure of their devotion to the cause because their wisdom tells them to fight for the greater good. In a study done in the journal of Behavioral and Applied Science, the author says this about the potential for wise men and women to become leaders in their communities:
“The growing body of empirical research suggests that self-awareness is associated with successful leadership. In the leadership context, the effectiveness of self-awareness outcomes turns on developing or accepting specific standards along with a strong desire for accurate self-evaluation. The ability to integrate both internal and external standards and still make accurate self/standard comparisons may explain why research related to self/other congruence has noted positive outcomes for leaders high in self-awareness “ (Ashley, & Reiter-Palmon, 2012).
This shows that when we choose to seek the path of wisdom, we can greatly impact the world in a positive way.
Men such as Thoreau, and Ghandi have left their permanent mark on the world. Their wisdom would advise us to never settle with their words, but to keep striving toward a further wisdom to come. The wonderful thing about wisdom is that it is always available, we just have to seek it out. Sometimes we are compelled to look for it out of curiosity, and others might look out of necessity. However, it really doesn’t matter why we look for it, only that we find it and make peace with what we discover. In my own pursuit of wisdom, I found that when I accepted my suffering as a pathway to peace, the beauties of life became more evident. My pond began to reflect the sky and the earth. My colors were reflective of the beautiful changing light, and when humans came to bathe, I washed them clean of their impurities. I discovered that it was only when I took on the nature of the lake that I could truly live in a peaceful state. The pursuit of wisdom taught me that. I will be forever grateful for the understanding.
Aitken, R., & American Bible Society. (1968). The Holy Bible. New York: Arno Press.
Ashley, G. C., & Reiter-Palmon, R. (2012). Self-Awareness and the Evolution of Leaders: The Need for a Better Measure of Self-Awareness. Journal Of Behavioral & Applied Management, 14(1), 2-17.
Burns, C. R. (2003). In search of wisdom: William Osler and the humanities. Medical Education, 37(2), 165-167. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.2003.01409.x
Ghandi’s Integrity. (2001). Raritan, 21(2), 48
McNamara, B. D. (2015). A Theology of Wisdom as the imago Dei: A Response to When God Talks Back. Evangelical Quarterly, 87(2), 151-168
Thoreau, H. D. (1990). Walden: Or life in the woods. Raleigh, N.C: Alex Catalogue.
Valois, M. (2015). Imaginative Wisdom. The Chronicle Of Higher Education, (17).
© 2015 Jamie Mendoza