Tuesday 11 June 2019
5:00 – 6:30 pm
Barn Owl Books and Gifts, McCall
Henry David Thoreau earned much of his living as a land surveyor, where he built an exacting reputation and gained access to his neighbors’ fields and woods.
We know him as a surveyor of the human experience. In his scholarship, observations and measurements, meditations on living, and exhortations on right action, he captures much of what it means to live a conscious life.
A contemporary survey tool is Spiral Dynamics, a mapping of human evolution and consciousness from developmental psychology. It shows how we progress from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric ways of understanding our existence. An individual develops a sense of self then finds identity within a tribe. We may then grow into a stage that values a broader view of humanity. This also occurs collectively as human societies evolve.
Beyond the worldcentric stage, psychologists noticed something completely different happening. People began integrating all previous stages, transcending and including rather than rejecting them. Researchers termed this stage Integral.
Can we engineer Thoreau as an Integralist based on his vast survey of interests, observations, readings, perspectives, and spiritual investigations? First evidence may be his characteristic weaving of cross-disciplinary concerns and stages of awareness. Mythic tropes tell tales revealing layers of the self and other. An empirical discourse on botany may follow. Just when we’re woo’ed by a progressive philosopher, he leans on being a hometown Yankee. There’s the firm call to rise above man-made laws in the name of justice. And if we think being a contrarian makes him egocentric, consider the necessity of seeing all perspectives. Integralists relish paradox.
In this discussion we will use the Spiral Dynamics map to engineer a fresh sounding of Thoreau. One he would debate and appreciate. Let’s consider how he is altogether mythic, archaic, tribal, rational, ecological, and progressive. Consider whether he rises above all that, transcends and includes.
Journal 3 April 1856
Hosmer is overhauling a vast heap of manure in the rear of his bam, turning the ice within it up to the light; yet he asks despairingly what life is for, and says he does not expect to stay here long. But I have just come from reading Columella, who describes the same kind of spring work, in that to him new spring of the world, with hope, and I suggest to be brave and hopeful with nature. Human life may be transitory and full of trouble, but the perennial mind, whose survey extends from that spring to this, from Columella to Hosmer, is superior to change. I will identify myself with that which did not die with Columella and will not die with Hosmer.
Journal 1850 spring
I do not prefer one religion or philosophy to another. I have no sympathy with the bigotry and ignorance which make transient and partial and puerile distinctions between one man’s faith or form of faith and another’s—as Christian and heathen. I pray to be delivered from narrowness, partiality, exaggeration, bigotry. To the philosopher all sects, all nations, are alike. I like Brahma, Hari, Buddha, the Great Spirit, as well as God.
Journal 1850 spring
I must conclude that Conscience, if that be the name of it, was not given us for no purpose, or for a hinderance. However flattering order and expediency may look, it is but the repose of a lethargy, and we will choose rather to be awake, though it be stormy, and maintain ourselves on this earth and in this life, as we may, without signing our death-warrant. Let us see if we cannot stay here, where He has put us, on his own conditions. Does not his law reach as far as his light? The expedients of the nations clash with one another, only the absolutely right is expedient for all.
Participants are invited to bring additional favorite passages we can ‘measure’ and place into the map.
Reading Thoreau has informed every part of my life, from becoming an educator to living in Idaho. Under the umbrella of Luminaire, I am compiling passages from Thoreau and creating corresponding activities so we may experience some of his meaning. This is accompanied by a series of presentations and the Live Like Thoreau website.
This summer I am presenting this discussion at the Thoreau Annual Gathering in Massachusetts.