Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Henry David Thoreau wrote the great green self-help guide, Walden; or, Life in the Woods, published in 1848. The essays are a catalogue of the sustainable lifestyle and an ode to an austere but rich coexistence with Nature. He advised on economy, nature, morality, solitude and living the good life against the tide of modernization. He was by many measures an extremist of the pioneering sort, even for the middle of the nineteenth century. He didn’t stray from the path that led from his cottage dwelling to the nearby water lest he leave a footprint larger than was necessary.
Thoreau owned very few things and managed his humble means with a Spartan frugality. He hated as gossip what most people called news and the blowing of the distant railroad whistle interrupted his reveries and sounded to his Romantic ear like the harbinger of more and louder intrusions to come. Boy, was he was right. Thoreau’s Walden Pond experiment lasted two years and two months. He dropped off the ‘grid’ of his day, then came back with a renewed sense of hope that humanity could find its way towards a new, more humane and natural style of living within the environment while affecting it as little as possible. Through his essays, this great naturalist writer left us a map that cannot become outdated.
Most people reading this simply cannot make wholesale radical changes in their lives. Some don’t need to (though they’re likely trying to perfect and disseminate their best eco-friendly practices). And many are in the process of retraining themselves, taking small steps in a common direction towards cleaner, smarter, more forward thinking and better living We cannot move to Walden Pond, but we can bless ourselves with alternatives that curb our current impact. Gandhi’s teachings that prescribed self-sufficient communities extend Thoreau’s ideal to a model for more populous places, but the ethical principles of mutual respect for fellow creatures and common respect for the land unite the eastern and western traditions. Legend has it that Buddha uttered on his deathbed the last of his sage advice: “Keep living diligently.”
Geoffrey Paul Gordon grew up in New York City and attended the Ethical Culture Schools, Columbia University and New York Universities. He is an award-winning playwright and has been teaching in the Arts and Humanities since 1980. Geoffrey is a junior partner in Greener Days (founded by his wife, Sara Gordon), a New York based coaching and consulting firm helping companies and individuals "go green."