Seeking Life Lessons in Nature It’s Connection with Inner Self

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Henry David Thoreau was a 19th Century American writer and philosopher. He is well known for his book, ​Walden, ​which he writes in isolation in a small cabin in the woods. Thoreau decides to leave society and retreat into the woods to live simply and learn about the depths of his own mind. In many ways, Thoreau and his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson are seen as the fathers of Transcendentalism. This ideology emphasizes non-conformity and self reliance – values that Thoreau embraces when he moves out into the forestland. Transcendentalism also highlights the belief that God is present in all aspects of nature, and that everything is interconnected, stemming from the same creator. Furthermore, Transcendentalist thinkers believe that anyone can know God through their own intuition; in other words, people need only look inwards to find God. The penultimate chapter of ​Walden, ​titled ​Spring, shows Thoreau’s ability to empathize with nature. Thoreau is able to gain valuable life lessons by watching the world around him grow and change in accordance with his own mind.

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 Thoreau effectively writes about the connection between the natural world and the inner self by correlating his observations to moral lessons, commentary on human society, and emotional cues, all supposedly set forth by God himself. As Thoreau watches the winter melt into spring, he reflects upon the moral lessons that the new season brings. He writes, “A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts”. Here the reader can see a direct comparison to the outer and inner selves. He sees the rain as something that brightens the grass around him, just as an individual with a more positive attitude sees more opportunity, and therefore finds success. He carefully chooses the word “influx” to describe the better thoughts that are necessary for finding better prospects, which alludes to his larger point. He is not merely saying that someone should think positively one morning and expect positive things to happen, although he would probably agree with that sentiment as well. “Influx” is defined as a sudden rush of things flowing in, or specifically “the place at which one stream flows into another or into the sea”. 

Thoreau is insinuating that one must alter their mind completely, flooding their negative thoughts with positivity and possibility. He gains insight into this moral lesson by watching a slight rain brighten the grass, thus connecting his inner mind to the natural world. Thoreau goes on to write, “In a pleasant spring morning all men’s sins are forgiven. Such a day is a truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return” (211). Here he weaves together a moral lesson with a more nuanced critique of human society, simply by observing the start of spring. He says spring is the season of forgiveness. When the snow melts, so do the sins of men. This aligns closely with the Transcendental belief that all things are inherently good, as they are all crafted by God. This is an important moral lesson to which he frequently returns. He writes “such a day is a truce to vice.” Vice is defined as “an immoral or evil habit or practice”. 

By alluding to the habitual nature of men, he may be commenting on a certain pattern of behavior: men tend to get stuck in bad routines due to bad habits. Spring offers us a chance to break free of the routine. This is not only a valuable moral lesson, but a judgment on the human mind and society as a whole. Thoreau goes on to lament, “Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors, — why the judge does not dismiss his case, — why the preacher does not dismiss his congregation! It is because they do not obey the hint which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he freely offers to all” . He judges society, stating that people are ignorant to God’s signals. The most important sentiment in this passage is that he begs preachers, metaphorically, to dismiss their congregations at the start of spring. This alludes to the Transcendental belief that a true connection with God is found through intuition as opposed to organized practice. Thoreau is pleading with society, hoping that people can open their eyes to discern God’s hints, which are all communicated through the natural world.

 By observing nature, Thoreau not only gains insight into the flaws of greater society, but also obtains emotional cues from his surroundings. As he writes about spring’s forgiving nature, he urges others to see how sinners change in the new season’s light. He says, “see how his exhausted and debauched veins expand with still joy and bless the new day, feel the spring influence with the innocence of infancy, and all his faults are forgotten” . Here is discerning that if a criminal, or otherwise impure individual, can allow spring to enter their minds and bodies, they will feel renewed. It is again important to note the diction Thoreau uses. He indicates that if one is able to accept the natural world’s cures, they will feel a sense of “still joy” or rather a sense of peace. Furthermore, he relates the inner feelings of a man enraptured by spring to the “innocence of infancy,” a common concept in Romanticism. Because Transcendentalism and Romanticism overlap in ideologies and time period, it makes sense that Thoreau returns to the notion of childhood innocence, a mindset that is commonly praised. He goes on to write, “you see some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst from his gnarled rind and try another year’s life, tender and fresh as the youngest plant”. He recognizes the childhood innocence in humans​and plants, again drawing connections between the natural world and the human mind. If humans approach nature with the sense of joy and childhood wonder that is shared by new-budding plants, they can be forgiven in God’s season of renewal. 

As Thoreau spends more time in nature, he begins to empathize with the natural world. Because he uses specific language and explicit observations, he captures the nuance of the lessons nature can teach us. Seeing both humans and the natural world as idealized products of God, Thoreau is able to draw numerous connections between the outside world and the inner mind. He takes his observations in ​Walden and transforms them into moral lessons and criticisms of human nature and society. Furthermore, Thoreau begins to feel empathy for the flora and fauna that surrounds him, personifying them in his mind. He takes his emotional cues from nature, which is constantly urging him to think deeper. As he observes the first day of a new season, he says that most humans are ignoring the beauty of spring and the chance to feel renewed again. He writes “we loiter in winter while it is already spring,” stating that everyone needs to wake up and live in the present, forgiving their past sins and the sins of others. 

In the current state of 21st Century America, it is much more challenging to locate isolated and untouched natural spaces. However, it is quite possible that if people today were able to remove themselves from the modern world’s constant stream of energy, and find time to think deeply in nature, they would be able to empathize with the natural world as Thoreau did in the 19th Century. 

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