Thoreau on News, Spiritual Life

Last week I read “Life Without Principle” by Henry David Thoreau on the YouTube channel. It’s a fairly short essay (text here) and, from what I could tell, gives a good overview of his outlook on the world if you haven’t read Walden in entirety yet (*cough* guilty).

He has a lot of good thoughts and hot takes, but the main idea that’s lingered with me is the need to keep your inner self as pure as possible from news and other negativity. He’s not saying to go live under a rock—or is he? 😆 —but rather emphasizing how useless it can be to obsess over current events. He even extends this warning to personal correspondence!

When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is, that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.

I can’t imagine what he would say about the “poor fellow” addicted to social media…

Thoreau goes on to speak of preserving “the mind’s chastity” as an antidote to “intellectual and moral suicide.” Similar to Sherlock Holmes’s cautions about filling your brain-attic with junk (although of a different context), Thoreau warns against filling your head with sordid contemplations, even if they are of the real world.

This is similar to what James writes in the first chapter of his letter:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
(James 1:27, emphasis added)

I have been feeling pretty convicted about this already, and reading Thoreau’s essay amplified the message. I want to make some positive changes in my life towards this end, but I am not sure what form they will take yet.

Drop a comment?

Man’s Search for Meaning, Revisited

First reading: May 2014 review

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is part memoir, part manifesto tackling the existential question of human life and why it matters. The message resonates with Frankl’s Yes to Life, but this longer work expands on his points with heartrending examples from his experiences in concentration camps. Though the main focus is valuing one’s own life, the book also challenges us to value other people’s lives, including those of our enemies.

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Quotes from Yes to Life by Viktor Frankl

Thank you to everyone for your kind wishes on my last post and other platforms. It’s truly encouraging. 💛

Resurfacing for a moment, I have some quotes to share from the newly published Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything. It’s the first English translation of some lectures by Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, most known for his book Man’s Search for Meaning.

Later I’d like to film a video with my comments, but for now, here are some things he said that—at the risk of waxing dramatic—I’m turning over in my very soul. Some are things that resonate with me immediately, others are profound question marks that nag and challenge. For context: Frankl was writing this in the mid-1940s, while trying to return to “normal” life in the aftermath of unimaginable pain and loss of his loved ones.

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Following Your Conscience: Václav Havel’s Open Letters – Part 2

Previously: Part 1. If you prefer, there’s also a video version of this review on YouTube. 🙂

Conscience, decency, morality. Over the past decade, politics and social life in the U.S. have grown deeply detached from these values, just as different factions continue to self-divide and become incongruous with each other. It could be argued the two were never married to begin with, but I think many would agree there was a time, not too far back, that ethics and morality were at least paid lip service. It’s 2020 now, and reading Václav Havel’s Open Letters, one feels a sense of loss and even personal failure, being reminded of better things by someone who lived in an even more oppressive atmosphere. It is not all gloom, though. Havel’s encouragement to follow your conscience could be the wake-up call we need.

Continue reading Following Your Conscience: Václav Havel’s Open Letters – Part 2

Never Powerless: Václav Havel’s Open Letters – Part 1

A kind of bi-polar political thinking is becoming more and more common in today’s politically polarized world…everyone is expected to be unquestionably loyal to the position he belongs to or has been assigned to.

Václav Havel wrote that in 1986. You know I’m not a loud person, but when I read that, I could’ve opened the window and shouted. Someone understood…someone got it.

Continue reading Never Powerless: Václav Havel’s Open Letters – Part 1