On Walden Pond

As I wrote about earlier, my wife and I have embarked on what we are calling a “radical sabbatical” to the island of Nantucket, where we are planning to read, research and write this winter and I am happy to report we are blissfully ensconced in our new digs here. On the writing front, the best way I know to describe my book when asked about it is to call it “an updated Waldenesque guidebook to simpler living.”

On our journey here and as part of my research for the book we visited Henry David Thoreau’s hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, including his cabin in the woods at Walden Pond, where he wrote Walden. On a picture perfect autumn day my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting not only Thoreau’s recreated cabin, complete with period furnishings, but also the original cabin site on the other side of Walden Pond.

It is no exaggeration to say it was a spiritual experience to walk in the footsteps of the author of my favorite book and to personally experience the environs that so inspired him. In addition to touring Walden Pond we also visited Thoreau’s gravesite at Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Concord, located on Author’s Ridge with his fellow writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Two Pennies Overboard

After a summer visit to the island of Nantucket nearly 20 years ago my wife and I participated in the time-honored tradition of tossing two pennies overboard as our ferry rounded Nantucket’s Brant Point on our return to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The tradition suggests that doing so means you are bound to return to “the faraway island,” as it is called.

Native American for “place of peace,” Nantucket is 30 miles out to sea and suffice it to say that during the winter it becomes an even more remote place, albeit one that is kept from freezing by the gulf stream of the Atlantic Ocean. The winter population shrinks to about 10,000 from several times that during the summer and we are about to join that number.

Come the first of November, my wife and I will become winter residents of Nantucket to fulfill our quest for a radical sabbatical, with time and space to read, write and plan our next move. As Joseph Campbell said, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Another very motivational quote for us is attributed to Henry David Thoreau. When queried about why he was trading his “normal” life in Concord to live at Walden Pond, he simply replied, “Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live and I could not spare any more time for that one.”

Finally, on a sign located at the mouth of the harbor in Mount Dora, the town we called home for several years and recently moved from, is a profound quote from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” And so we are.

Pull the Plug

It's time to pull the plug. No, not on granny…on your electronics. Tomorrow is the second iteration of the National Day of Unplugging, which I first blogged about last year under my post titled “Sabbath Manifesto,” and my wife and I are planning to participate yet again this year. It isn’t extraordinarily challenging for us since we generally at least stay offline on the weekends but it’ll be good to extend the unplugging to our other electronics also.

To that point, judging by most people’s placement of televisions at the center of their homes (myself included) you’d think life literally revolved around them (mine doesn’t) but it is possible to live without them. As a matter of fact, I’ve gone without television for extended periods of time, including the month or so a few years ago when my present one had to be repaired. At any rate, whether it’s the computer, television, phone, stereo, or other electronic device, I think we’ll all be better off unplugging them for at least a day.

Radical Sabbatical

As we enter the New Year, my wife and I are preparing to embark on what we are calling a “radical sabbatical.” What that means for us is a move toward concentrating on what feeds our souls as we strive to make a life and not merely a living. For example, we are conscientiously trying to say “no” to the good in order to say “yes” to the best, both personally and professionally.

For my part, I mean to gradually quit doing the type of work I don’t enjoy and more actively pursue work that adds meaning to my life and not merely money. Part of my plan includes creating a “life list” of activities to do before I die, including visiting places I’ve dreamt of.

Also on the agenda is quitting things that no longer make sense for us or that we’ve done simply out of a sense of obligation. For far too long we’ve both found ourselves guilty of doing stuff just to be doing it, usually because it was a pattern of behavior proscribed “by the book.”

The older we get the more we realize that life is too short to live according to other people’s prescriptions for living. We are each given one life to live and it is a shame when we squander ours trying to squeeze into a mold that doesn’t fit. Tragically, many of us are born originals but die copies instead.

A year from now I hope to be able to report that my life has radically changed to the point that I barely recognize the person I am today. To quote the immortal words of T.S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”