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Life of Quiet Desperation
In 1854 a series of eighteen extraordinary essays was published, vividly detailing one man’s two-year experiment living alone in the woods. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden would become one of the most influential books in American literature.
Of the many keen observations articulated in this masterwork, this oft-quoted line personifies the human condition: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
While seemingly somber in its sentiment, less known and far less referenced are the sentences in the paragraph that immediately follows:
“They honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices.”
Together these passages offer us not only insight into the circumstances of life, but a pathway to peace.
We learn that the source of “quiet desperation” — in fact, all pain, all stress, all sadness — is “our prejudices.” And by prejudices, Thoreau was not referring to discrimination based on race, politics, gender, religion, or any other aversion or hostility. Rather, he used the word prejudice to mean judgment.
While Thoreau predates A Course in Miracles by a little over 100 years, he certainly understood the relationship between relinquishing judgment and experiencing serenity.
You have no idea of the tremendous release and deep peace that comes from meeting yourself and your brothers totally without judgment. (T-3.VI.3)
A man of action who loathed empty platitudes, Thoreau strove for practical application of every principle for which he wrote and spoke. And we’d be wise to do likewise.
While words may be inspiring, it’s in the practice of attentional intentionality that we rapidly progress.
Recognizing that all sorrow is not caused by situations in our lives but rather the meaning given them, we can use our experiences to help us transcend each. Through careful observation and kind introspection, every grievance can be compassionately considered and gently dissolved.
Practicing such non-judgmental looking transforms our lives from ones of quiet desperation into indescribable joy.
Join me in Thursday’s class where we’ll explore the nature of despair and methods by which we can experience the “deep peace” to which the course, and every other non-dualistic thought system, leads. I look forward to seeing you then.