Thoreau Thursdays (31): The Beneficent Society in Nature

November 17, 2011

In the midst of gentle rain . . . I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since.  Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Pine needles with rain drops

Pine tree reflected in rain puddle

“I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Here is Thoreau again espousing the appeal of solitude.  Relationships can be problematic.  Family, co-workers, friends, and loved ones let you down, make you angry, bring you to despair.  Life with people is a roller coaster of disappointments.

But the opposite is also true.  Relationships can bring joy, intimacy, and connection.

The conventional wisdom is that you need relationships to have a meaningful life.  Certainly hermits and recluses are viewed askance, as if there were something not quite right about them.  Those of us with monk-ish tendencies are apt to feel like misfits.

Anthony Storr, in Solitude: A Return to the Self, argues that one can indeed have a meaningful life and happiness without having any very close relationships:  “. . . interests in which imagination plays a part are, in many individuals, as important as interpersonal relationships in giving meaning to their lives.”  And he reminds us that, “Even those who have the happiest relationships with others need something other than those relationships to complete their fulfillment.”

Thoreau had an immense capacity for finding solace in nature and looking inward.  Nature provided him with much richness for his mind and imagination.  He reminds us that the gifts of nature are there for anyone who takes the time to enjoy them.

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