I read the other day that the Walden Woods foundation, in association with a university, has developed a video game that is supposed to recreate Henry David Thoreau’s experiences at Walden Pond. The game is intended to help people get back in touch with a feeling of living intentionally, to promote a feeling of a life balance through the game play. If you spend too much time doing any one thing in the game your world starts to dim, colors become less vibrant, the music less varied until it is just silence. The game is also intended to hopefully open up the teachings of the transcendentalists to new generations.
I think this all well intentioned, but it also feels like an artificial effort to ween people from a dependence on technology, something Thoreau abhorred, through the use of technology. It is creating virtual tourists rather than promoting a genuine, and for now easy to obtain, experience. One of the ironies being that the criticism directed at Theroux is that he may have also just been a tourist at Walden, albeit one that could write well.
It is easy to live life at the surface, never really diving into things, never getting into the marrow. I’ve been experiencing a bit of this in my life lately. An extra helping of work travel, coupled with all of the prep work that comes with it has kept me from doing some of the things I love lately. It has screwed up the balance I have tried hard to achieve. This is not a complaint, far from it in fact. Things are going extremely well with work and I am finding myself excited about it for the first time in a while. The knock is that there have not felt like there are enough hours in the day for a while now, which leads to stress, which opens the door for negative thoughts, memories, and feelings, and soon I am a mess. The way out of the spiral is to find a way to a balance that the Thoreau game is trying to teach.
The first conversation I ever had with Melissa was at a party in early July, 2001. The thought that it may have been July 5th, 15 years prior, has occurred to me many times. It might have been. It may not have been. The conversation was focused on her Master’s thesis work studying Walden.
Among the many things she said that night, the one that has stuck with me the most was the idea that Walden pond was a giant eye looking out onto the world. The surface of the water represents the lens and the murky depths the innermost thoughts and feelings of the earth. We all have a tendency to see the water for the surface, we think we understand it based on the dragonflies and water lilies we can all see. Only a select few of us will wade in, will break the surface and dive down. When we do we are rewarded with a richness of life and an understanding that what is unseen is often more beautiful than what apparent to everyone.
As I write this tonight I am one another airplane, flying again for work. I am surrounded by strangers on the plane and in the airport. Everyone is locked into their phones. We are all staring at screens, alive, but not really living. The majesty of flying at 35,000 feet, making a cross country flight in four hours that only a century ago took days and weeks is lost. We are locked into Fox News and MSNBC, we are focused on things beyond our direct control. We are all moving station to station, together but separate. We are focused on our profits, but profits are more than just money. Beauty and soul are profitable too.
As I work to balance the ledger that is my life I of course watch the dollars and cents. Work is good, work is fulfilling. Work is a challenge, sometimes it is a purpose. Work refills the coffers. But work is not everything. Money is a means, not an end. And so I spend my evenings and downtime trying to build out a profitable and interesting soul. I am trying to get behind that lens that Melly talked about all those years ago, to get down into the mud and under the water. To dive deeper to see if I can find the secrets to all these mysteries lately. In a few words, I am trying to put the phone and computer away when I am not working. I try to get away from the news and Facebook. I am trying to get into world, not among it, in it. To live deliberately lest, I find that I never lived at all.