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Wellness Retreat - A Life Changing Experience (Henry David Thoreau)
At the age of 20, Thoreau graduated and became a schoolteacher. Opposed to corporal punishment he lasted only a few weeks. With the help of his brother, they created a nature based school. After his brothers’ death the school closed.
Around this time he met Ralph Waldo Emerson who became a mentor figure. Emerson introduced him to a group of progressive writers and thinkers. Thoreau then moved in with Emerson’s family, working as a tutor to his children. He also did gardening and general repairs.
His next career move involved working in his father’s pencil factory. He could have taken over the business and lived a prosperous life. But he found the work lacking in meaning. Thoreau wrote:
“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”
In his mid 20’s he felt himself at a crossroads. His youthful idealism hadn’t found an outlet. He feared settling into the midlife resignation he saw around him. Thoreau questioned the dominant protestant work ethic that revered busyness above meaning, saying:
“I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living. You must get your living by loving. But as it is said of the merchants that 97 in a 100 fail, so the life of men generally, tried by this standard, is a failure…”
At 28, he was restless. He was unwilling to devote his life to simply making money and he was unsure what to do with himself. Thoreau famously wrote:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Most men die with their song unsung.”
Determined not to fritter away his life he decided to retreat, in order to advance. The despair he saw in the majority of lives provoked him to seek out its counterpart, hope. There had to be a more authentic way of living available.
Emerson owned some land which included a pond. He offered Thoreau the use of it, that he may find his centre. In the summer of 1845 he moved onto the land, expressing his intent:
Nature - the Original Wellness Centre
Thoreau didn’t retreat into deep wilderness or isolation. Walden was a few kilometres from Concord, where he’d spend most of his life. To sustain himself he grew his own food and traded his beans for a few basics at a market. For shelter, he built a small log cabin.
His days were spent walking, canoeing, reading, bird watching, writing and living simply. He felt that modern society kept people shackled to unsatisfying jobs so that they could afford ‘things’. In stepping back from conventional life he reconnected with the natural world and his soul, or interior life.
Philosopher Alain de Botton said that in retreating from the world:
“His [Thoreau] true aim was to find a way to navigate a frighteningly vast, dizzyingly interconnected and morally troubling modern society. He understood that solace wouldn’t come from avoiding society and its overwhelming intricacies and distractions, but by engaging with it in a deeper, more purposeful way.”
After placing a warm urn on his table, Thoreau noticed a beetle emerge from its 60 year hibernation. He felt that to be an analogy of passing from winters death into summers liveliness. All it required was a hiatus from society to find our centre.
“Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”
When Thoreau returned to society he well and truly had found his bliss in writing. People sought him out to speak about his time at Walden and what he had learned. He wasn’t advocating that we should opt-out of society but rather opt-in more consciously.
Soon after leaving the place he wrote “Civil Disobedience,” which went on to influence Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He took the journalling he did from his time there to produce his most famous book, Walden. Nearly 200 years on it still speaks strongly to people. He once said:
“There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living. You must get your living by loving.”
In taking a retreat, or a sabbatical from the well trodden path in life, Thoreau managed to do just that.
A Writes of Passage Wellness Retreat
Very few people possess a will powerful enough to transcend the stifling of their true identities. Most of us, require a community to help nurture it. In Thoreau’s case, he found his way in part due to the support of his mentor Emerson. Exposure to the ideas of other free thinkers also served to help him find his resolve.
Our retreat programs are designed to midwife you through transitions such as finding your career direction/life purpose, composing your life story or birthing a new business endeavour.
“By suppressing the nature dimension of human development (through educational systems, social values, advertising, nature-eclipsing vocations and pastimes, city and suburb design, denatured medical and psychological practices, and other means), industrial growth society engenders an immature citizenry unable to imagine a life beyond consumerism and soul-suppressing jobs.
This neglect of our human nature has led to the tragedy we face today: most humans are alienated from their vital individuality.”
In 1928, marketing professor Paul Nystrom coined a term for this, the philosophy of futility.
We can each counter this by listening to the ‘pull of the soul.’ Thoreau coined the term “A Different Drummer.” This describes someone who is individuating and expressing their full talents in the world. They carry an exuberance and a vitality that is infectious.
Our retreat programs are designed to help you tune into your unique drum beat and de-script from cultural conditioning that doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Author Tim Winton spoke about the necessity for liberation:
“Liberation – a process of disarmament, reflection and renewal – isn’t just desirable, it’s desperately necessary. In our homes, in business, and in our politics.”
We assert that liberation begins with the individual. Philosopher Peter Singer used the image of an expanding circle of concern. After prioritising our own development, we naturally want to help others to fulfil their potential and continue expanding our concern to ensure all living things have dignity and self-determination.
The Writes of Passage approach endeavours to deliver a meaningful rite of passage in areas that I have both personally worked through and developed a real passion for - birthing your business(es), writing your life story, navigating the middle passage of life, creating high functioning relationships and finding your career direction or life purpose.
It draws on research from mainstream fields such as psychology, career development and adult development stages while going beyond merely an intellectual understanding to take in more imaginative, mythic or soulful ideas.
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.” - Thoreau
Committing to your self-development is the most important investment you can make.
As a joint endeavour, I see my role as providing you with the impetus of writing material, a conducive space to write and reflect, as well as insights, feedback, guidance and encouragement.
Writes of Passage Retreats is founded on the conviction that something alchemical occurs when the following elements combine:
• A sabbatical, or moratorium from the treadmill existence
• Time in nature and quiet spaces
• Writing and reflection aimed at de-scripting & clarifying core values and passions
• Mentoring, collaboration and the importance of a fresh set of eyes
Thoreau once said, “The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving then.”
If you’ve been looking for a catalyst to push you out of where you are now and into a more fulfilling, authentic life, then one of our retreat programs might be just the launching pad you need.
Take a look at our range of retreat programs.
How to Find your Passion
Wanting to find greater alignment and passion for your work? Read an extract from The Different Drummer to see if this ebook resonates with you.