HENRY DAVID THOREAU, 1817–1862, UNITED STATES
After graduating from Harvard, Thoreau met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who employed him in his house, mentored him, and encouraged him to write. At 28 Thoreau went to Walden Pond seeking spiritual regeneration through harmony with nature. He built a cabin on a piece of land owned by Emerson and lived there for two years, reading, writing, and studying the woodland life. He published his experiences and reflections in his book Walden.
Though neglected during Thoreau’s life, Walden has become a world classic. Even without Walden, Thoreau would have become renowned for his journals, published posthumously in 1906 from 29 handwritten notebooks. In his reading of Vedic literature, Thoreau found a conception of human life and human potential that became his ideal, and it was this he sought to develop at Walden Pond. As he wrote to a friend, “To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.”
A Shoreless, Islandless Ocean
Thoreau writes: “If with closed ears and eyes I consult consciousness for a moment, immediately are all walls and barriers dissipated, earth rolls from under me, and I float. . . in the midst of an unknown and infinite sea, or else heave and swell like a vast ocean of thought, without rock or headland, where are all riddles solved, all straight lines making there their two ends to meet, eternity and space gamboling familiarly through my depths. I am from the beginning, knowing no end, no aim. No sun illumines me, for I dissolve all lesser lights in my own intenser and steadier light. I am a restful kernel in the magazine of the universe. . .
“Men are constantly dinging in my ears for their fair theories and plausible solutions of the universe, but ever there is no help, and I return again to my shoreless, islandless ocean.” —Thoreau’s Journal
To Be Calm, To Be Serene
When he closes his ears and eyes and turns his attention within, beyond sensory experience, Thoreau says all boundaries are dissolved and consciousness becomes an “infinite sea,” an ocean without islands or shores. As so many others report, this experience brings a pure wisdom wherein all riddles are solved.
“In my better hours I am conscious of the influx of a serene and unquestionable wisdom… What is that other kind of life to which I am thus continually allured? Which alone I love? … Are our serene moments… simply a transient realization of what might be the whole tenor of our lives?
“To be calm, to be serene! There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind… So it is with us. Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives, not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal, and without an effort, our depths are revealed to ourselves. All the world goes by us and is reflected in our deeps. Such clarity!” —Thoreau’s Journal
“Silence is the communion of a conscious soul with itself. If the soul attend for a moment to its own infinity, then and there is silence.” —Thoreau
Silence Is the Communion of a Conscious Soul
Thoreau could hardly emphasize the silent state of awareness more eloquently. The experience brings “serene and unquestionable wisdom,” suggesting pure consciousness as pure knowledge, and aligns one with “the all-just laws,” suggesting pure consciousness as the unified field of natural law.
Thoreau suspects these transient moments have the potential to become “the whole tenor of our lives” — that we might live this “other kind of life” permanently. In any case, he asserts, the experience is available to everyone:
“Silence is the communion of a conscious soul with itself. If the soul attend for a moment to its own infinity, then and there is silence. She is audible to all men, at all times, in all places.” —Thoreau’s Journal
Dr. Craig Pearson is the Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Maharishi University of Management and the author of The Supreme Awakening: Experiences of Enlightenment Throughout Time—and How You Can Cultivate Them, 2nd Edition.