Search for Spiritual Life Essay
In Walden; or, Life in the Woods Henry David Thoreau presents his transcendental beliefs. His experiment of living in the woods and away from society was a way to test out his beliefs. Thoreau believed that by freeing himself from social restrictions, he could eventually gain spiritual relief. Similar to transcendentalism is the hippie’s view of life. They too also believed in a simpler way of living and wished to gain spiritual knowledge of nature and the world as a whole. Thoreau portrayed an alternative state of consciousness throughout the passages displayed in Walden.
He continuously changed his narration from a literal view to a higher spiritual perspective. For instance, in “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”, Thoreau wrote, “Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere…” Thoreau was viewing his cabin from an altered state of mind. In the previous sentences, he was comparing his cabin as a home fit for a god. Someone could clearly see that this cabin was most likely not worthy for a god or goddess, but Thoreau believed that a paradise fit for a god is everywhere, if one can perceive it.
By altering his views into optimistic values, he changed his mediocre self-built cabin into an admirable residence. Another example of Thoreau perceiving an altered state of consciousness is in the “Higher Laws” when he wrote about how he felt savage and animal-like while walking home through the woods. Thoreau said, “I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. ” Thoreau is showing that he views himself not only as a man, but also as an animal.
He sinks into a level of pure hunger and power like an animal shows when it is hunting. Thoreau is not ashamed of his primitive instincts and even respects this side of him. By having a new perspective on what he views as raw emotion, he takes in both accounts of human instincts. He does not discriminate against the civilized side of men or the primitive side. Similarly, most hippies used many psychoactive drugs such as marijuana and LSD to reach this alternative state of mind. They were searching for revelation within, and were hoping to expand their consciousness.
In 1965 Ken Kesey became famous in the hippy community by promoting the use of psychotropic drugs, especially LSD. He frequently held what was called “Acid Tests”, in which people would come and take LSD to expand their minds into an alternative state of being. Many bands such as Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix were all influenced by drugs and thought it could create them into “real” musicians. By using drugs, they could experience the world from a new perspective and could therefore alter their state of being.
While on stage at a concert, band member Jerry Garcia took LSD and later said, “We could capture an audience’s attention in a few strums of a guitar string. ” For Garcia, taking drugs was not just for recreational use. He believed that he could connect with the audience and his music in a deeper way with the use of drugs. His altered state of mind while on drugs helped him become the musician he wanted to be. Although Thoreau used his creativity and not drugs to generate an alternative state of consciousness, both Thoreau and hippies were searching for a new meaning of life, and how to perceive it.
From the beginning of Walden, Thoreau expresses how he wants to go back into a naturalistic environment in order to receive spirituality. In his chapter “Economy”, Thoreau writes, “I should not obtrude my affairs so much on the notice of my readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my townsmen concerning my mode of life, which some would call impertinent, though they do not appear to me at all impertinent, but, considering the circumstances, very natural and pertinent. ” Thoreau wants to live in the woods, despite what others say, because he believes that there is value in doing so.
He thinks that living in the woods is a reasonable way to get in touch with his spiritual side, although most people believe that this is an irrelevant and uncivil decision. This passage shows the importance of Thoreau wanting to live in a naturalistic setting because it is a simpler and easier way of living. Thoreau also shows another earning of going back to nature when he states, “Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. Thoreau sees the irony of people living in a free country when they are actually not free at all. By being so occupied with excess possessions, people are spiritually oppressed. That is why Thoreau believes in a simplified lifestyle. He believes that a rudimentary existence is the best way to freedom because by living a life filled with the need to own extravagant items, that need takes over someone’s life and eventually deprives him or her of inner freedom. Like Thoreau’s need for a naturalistic environment, hippies also wished for a more spiritual life with the environment.
For example, a group of young hippies called the “Nature Boys” took to the California desert to live and raise organic food, espousing a back-to-nature lifestyle. Since hippies were very aware of the environment, they favored hitchhiking as their primary mode of transportation because it was environmentally healthy. They believed that the nature was the easiest and most carefree place to live because it had plentiful resources and did not have other social interruptions. Therefore, many hippies relied on natural resources to get by because they did not rely on money to live.
Most hippies lived in small communities together in small man-made houses or tents outside because it let them better connect with each other and the environment. This act for a simpler way of living was very similar to Thoreau’s experiment of living in the woods and away from society. Both believed that the way to gain spiritual relief was to leave civilization, and settle in a more isolated area. The hippies’ beliefs and Thoreau’s transcendentalism beliefs of back-to-nature spiritual life prove to be related to one another.
Another idea that Thoreau presents to the reader in Walden is the new experiences one can gain from freeing oneself from societal restrictions. By not following society’s rules, people can choose their own path of living. Thoreau mentions this type of living in “Economy” when he says, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. ” Thoreau is showing the unhappiness of the modern American lifestyle. He believes that one’s pursuit of wealth, which is a way of showing one’s social status, is what causes he or she to lose sight of the smaller pleasures in life.
By following society’s opinion that money equals success, people are led to discontentment. In order for Thoreau to free himself from this misconception, he placed himself out of society’s hands and into his own. In” Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”, Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. Society believes that having grand materialistic objects means that someone is better than another, but to Thoreau, he believes that only living with essential necessities is what leads to inner fulfillment. Although society tries to impose rules about how to live, living deliberately and letting one choose his or hers own path is what Thoreau believes and practices. Like Thoreau’s transcendental beliefs, hippies also rejected established institutions, criticized middle class values, and believed in Eastern Philosophy.
Hippies believe in the nature of God, and had various forms of gods based on Asian, Indian, and Arabian philosophies. The hippie code was “do your own thing, wherever you have to do it and whenever you want. Drop out. Leave society as you have known it. Leave it utterly. Blow the mind of every straight person you can reach. Turn them on, if not to drugs, then to beauty, love, honesty, fun. ” Hippies had a different lifestyle because they did not believe in doing what society told them to do.
Many of them partook in alternative arts such as psychedelic rock, street theater, and folk music because it was a new way to express their feelings, their protests, and their vision of the world. Hippies viewed the dominant culture as a corrupt, monolithic entity that showed undue power over people’s lives, calling the culture “the establishment”, “big brother”, or “the man”. Hippies were nonconformists and wanted to live their lives deliberately just like how Thoreau wanted to leave society and choose his own way of living.
Both beliefs are alike in that they both wish to gain a new meaning of life. They want a life not filled with outer goods, but inner freedom and fulfillment. By living out of society’s grasp, Thoreau and the hippies were able to design their own way of living and therefore created own path. They were searching for a higher spiritual way of living life, and both did receive some insight while living in an uncivilized environment. By letting nature take its course, Thoreau and hippies found a way to live in peace with themselves and the environment.