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DateLine Sunday, 30 September 2007

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Vignettes - by R.S.Karunaratne

Live close to nature

Can you believe whether a highly educated man could go into the woods with a borrowed axe and live there for two years and two months all alone? He built a small wooden hut in the woods of concord, massachusetts and lived by himself without anybody's assistance. He cultivated everything he wanted in the cleared part of the woods and lived close to nature.

That strange man was none other than Henry David Thoreau, the outstanding American philosopher, author and naturalist. In his path-breaking book titled "Walden" Thorean says that he wanted to live alone at least for a short time. He did not waste his time day dreaming or looking at the trees and the sky.

He needed some money to buy essentials. So he worked for local farmers and earned some money. But he did not want to fill his small hut with furniture or curtains. For him life on earth was a pastime. He did not believe that man had to earn his living by the sweat of his brow.

Of course, people living in the Digital Age may not be able to follow Thorean who lived 145 years ago. However, the fact remains that we have to find some time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Most of us are running a rat race with a view to earning more and more money and living in luxury. In our view, it is a luxury to live in an air-conditioned house with all types of modern gadgets.

Our houses are full of refrigerators, washing machines, radios, television sets, computers, mini-theatres, microwave ovens and what not. With all such luxury we remain unhappy.

Then we go after various gurus and philosophers to find the meaning of life. When we find that this kind of life is utterly meaningless, it is too late to make amends because we have to get ready for the final journey.

Thorean believed that we are wasting our energies on non-essentials. Most of the time, we buy non-essential items thinking that they would bring us happiness. The primitive man who had no education worshipped the sun, the moon and the air.

Today we think that he must have been a fool to do such things. What do we worship today? We are worshipping money, gold, flashy vehicles and comfortable houses today.

Thorean was one man who told his fellowmen to realise the meaning of sun rise, solitude and stillness. He appreciated the sound of silence. He found himself one with the birds and flowers in the woods. "What more do I need?" He might have asked. He had everything in plenty.

It is true that we cannot put up a hut in the woods and live like Thorean. He never asked us to do that either. He wanted everyone to find happiness in nature in his own way. This is sound advice coming from a philosopher of the first order.

His advice is clear and simple. We have to admit that life is cluttered up with unnecessary problems. For example, having a television set at home and watching your favourite programmes can be tolerated.

However, if you invest in a satellite TV and start watching all those idiotic programmes coming through fifty odd channels, you are simply crazy. Similarly if you are always hooked to the mobile phone, you will never hear how birds sing.

As we are living away from nature, we want everything instantaneously. We go after teachers who claim to teach English in eight days. We are not ready to spend a longer period to master a language. We want instant food.

We simply can't wait for hours until somebody cook our meals in a leisurely pace. We rush to the station to catch the last train to office without getting up a little earlier than usual. Even in office or factory we do a rush job with the idea of going home early. All these activities, are meaningless and frustrating.

Thorean was not alone in this line of thinking. Once Dr. C.E.M. Joad said that every man at forty should take a year's holiday. When you do that, you come back quite refreshed. If you can take a long holiday from your work, you will be able to look at life with a new vision.

During his solitary sojourn Thorean wrote an illuminating essay on Thomas Carlyle and wrote the greater part of his book titled "Walden." He also walked for four hours every day.

The most valuable lesson we can learn from Thorean is that we should withdraw from our hectic life even for a few days to recharge our batteries. Revered Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi used to observe a day of silence. He had given strict instructions not to be interrupted during such days.

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