Thoreau the Yogi

 “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Gandhi

This morning while reading the newspaper over breakfast at my hotel, I came across a review of a book I hadn’t heard of yet. The book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, purports to extol the value of those who shun the spotlight and instead seek solitude, simplicity, and quiet contribution in the noisy world around them. The book sounds intriguing and probably has appeal for a lot of yogis out there who understand the virtue of inner reflection. It’s now on my list of books to read.

The review also got me thinking about the great American introvert, Henry Thoreau, and his two year experiment of living simply and alone at Walden Pond. Although many of us might not have the same fortitude or desire to shut ourselves away in a cabin for a couple years, I think many of us yogis share similar spiritual and contemplative aspirations. As the following passages illustrate, much can be said for the inner conversation that takes place in the heart of one whom the world would describe as an introvert.

Indeed, Thoreau is considered by many to be America’s first self-described yogi. In a letter penned in 1849, Thoreau wrote:

“Free in this world as the birds in the air, disengaged from every kind of chains, those who practice the yoga gather in Brahma the certain fruit of their works. … Depend upon it that, rude and careless as I am, I would fain practice the yoga faithfully. … The yogi, absorbed in Contemplation, contributes in his degree to creation; he breathes a divine perfume, he hears wonderful things. Divine forms traverse him without tearing him, and, united to the nature which is proper to him, he goes, he acts as animating Original matter. … To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.”

In Walden, Thoreau further described his meditative reverie in this beautiful passage:

“Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise to noon, rapt in revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, while the birds sang or flitted noiseless through the house until by sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’ s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any of the work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works.”

Beautiful words for “quiet” hearts who want to shake the world, but in a gentle way…

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    1. @dianebalch–breathing really does help center and slow the mind–sorta lengthens that timeframe where we make important decisions. Great post, by the way, on your Simple Living blog about staying healthy in the winter… I couldn’t agree more with all of your suggestions!

  1. Again, another awesome blog post. I share this similar affinity for spending time alone in nature and only recently took off from daily life for a one month solo trip in the mountains. I loved it. Two years would be heavenly. This also reminds me of Jeremiah Johnson and Robert Redford, and Redford also shared the same passion for spending time with oneself. Looking forward to your next post!!!

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