Where do I start? It’s been a busy year, probably the most eventful year I’ve had in over ten years. Let’s see, I studied Spanish and math, math very extensively and not my best subject. I took the five-hour WEST-B test and got my Washington and Oregon state teaching licenses, even though I really didn’t want to teach anywhere.
Call it a mid-life crisis about ten years late. I was unhappy with teaching but felt trapped, trapped in my job, trapped in my house, trapped in a life that I knew wasn’t my best life. It was a good life, but as old age begins creeping upon us, we start analyzing our lives to see if the way we are living is good enough—good enough that “when it came time to die, I would not discover that I had not truly lived” as Thoreau put it in Walden (Thoreau, Ch. 2, Walden). Yes, I decided, it was time to “live deliberately” (Walden) because we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, and I wanted something more.
I needed a change, a big change. It turns out my husband needed a change too, but for different reasons. He, too, was trapped in a job, but not because he didn’t enjoy the work. It was because he couldn’t be who he truly felt he was there, but he felt stuck, thinking he made too much money to quit and start over somewhere else in his fifties. Moving 1,500 miles away with me would be the catalyst he needed to make the change, so we agreed.
We sold our house and lots of our stuff, and we packed up our things, too many of our things, and put the dog and cat in the car and headed to the great Pacific Northwest. I took a teaching job in Oregon, not that I wanted to teach, but we weren’t so brave that we’d move that far without a job waiting. Call it Kismet or the Universe listening to my plea, or just plain luck, but when we got to Oregon, the job completely sucked! I mean, it was the worst job I ever had, and because it was so completely intolerable, it was my catalyst to finally leave teaching and pursue a different life, a life where I worked to live instead of living to work.
Through some connections with some wonderful people, I’ve been able to begin living the life I imagined. I now work at home. I have several different gigs—one for a company that’s very steady and has benefits, another that is regular and part-time but wonderfully creative, and the others are creative and sporadic. I’m a freelance writer and editor, I work at home with my dog and cat next to me, and I decide when and where I work. I never wake up to an alarm anymore. I wake up naturally with the sun. Sometimes I work in my pjs, sometimes I clock out for lunch and take a walk among the beautiful trees in Oregon, and go home refreshed to finish working. I take the same days off my husband does, so we can go to the beach, the mountains, or the falls, or just sit around together, watching movies.
Don’t get me wrong. It was hard, really hard. We left a beautiful house we had spent a lot of time making just how we wanted it. We left our close friends and family. We left security and better wages. We bought a house that needed everything, and we have to work on it way too much. We have to be careful with our money. We have to make friends (We have already met some great people we’ve been hanging out with). I’ve given up a lot, but I know it was the right thing to do.
I know because if it comes time for me to die ten years from now, five years, a year, I’ll know that I’ve been living, really living, the way I want to live. Even if my time comes next week, I know I spent my time doing what I want, being who I am, and my husband is able to live an authentic life, being himself. Nothing feels better than that. It really is a wonderful life, but sometimes you do need to leave to find the life you couldn’t allow yourself to live in that other place. Sometimes you have to just be bold to become bold.
Maybe someday I’ll move back, probably not, but if I do, I’ll be a different person. I’ll be a person who refuses to settle. I’ll be brave. I’ll be free. I won’t ever be trapped again, but the amazing thing is, I think I’ve learned how to be brave and free anywhere. For now, I’m loving the beautiful Pacific Northwest and the dramatic beauty of Oregon, where I learned to truly live “and as to you death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me” (Whitman, Section 49, Song of Myself) whilst I walk among the ancients as my true self. I can’t wait to see what this year brings. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles
Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Found in Writing America: Language and Composition in Context, edited by David A. Joliffe and Hephizibah Roskelly. Boston: Pearson, 2014. 132-133. Print.
Excerpt from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, c. 1900. Bartleby.com, 1999.
In seeking to define my worldview, I have found myself consistently drawn to seemingly oppositional philosophical viewpoints: Existentialism and Transcendentalism. At least they seem juxtaposed in most ways. My definition of Existentialism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning; we create the meaning in our own lives. There is no divine. Transcendentalism, on the other hand, is believing the divine is all around us and in us. We are in nature and nature is in us, and through communion with nature, we connect with the divine soul and are one with everything. This connection is the meaning of life.
Why do I bother defining my worldview? Why do I feel the need to label it? I’ve asked myself this question a thousand times. I believe it is because in order to live consciously, deliberately, and according to a personal value standard, which I desire to do, I need to make choices all the time that fall within certain parameters, and to be vigilant in that, they must be defined. Life is short, and to live it fully aware, one cannot blindly stumble through it.
I read extensively and eclectically, and in my reading, I come across wisdom that speaks to me what I recognize as truth. But is that which seems true, truth? Ah, the age old question asked by every ancient philosopher, and Pilate asked this to Jesus, and at some point, every thinking person must ask themselves, “What is truth?” In forming our worldviews, I find that we latch on to bits of wisdom that seem true because we recognize their wisdom according to our already established values, in which we have internalized throughout our lives from various experiences, both internally and externally. I believe we are even born with some of these values.
I have found many things that seem true in Existentialism. I love Existentialism. People say it is pessimistic and depressing. I don’t see it that way at all. I think it is liberating and comforting. Here are some of my favorite Existential aphorisms:
“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”—Jack Kerouac
“All that remains is a fate whose outcome alone is fatal. Outside of that single fatality of death, everything, joy or happiness, is liberty. A world remains of which man is the sole master. What bound him was the illusion of another world.” –Albert Camus
“Life begins on the other side of despair.”—Jean-Paul Sarte
“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” —Jean-Paul Sarte
“It’s only after you’ve lost everything, that you’re free to do anything.”—Tyler Durden
“Every true faith is infallible. It performs what the believing person hopes to find in it. But it does not offer the least support for the establishing of an objective truth. Here the ways of men divide. If you want to achieve peace of mind and happiness, have faith. If you want to be a disciple of truth, then search.”—Friedrich Nietzsche
“Memento mori—remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die—what makes this any different from a half hour?”—Leo Tolstoy
“We fear death, we shudder at life’s instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something last longer than we do.”—Hermann Hesse
“As if the blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”—Albert Camus
When I read Existentialist philosophy, I want it to be true. I think it is beautiful and carefree. Unfortunately, I don’t quite buy it.
So I turn to Transcendentalism. After all, I have practiced yoga all my life. Some of my favorite works of literature are Transcendentalist works, and although I see them as contradicting Existentialist views, I see them also as containing profound truths, and one cannot help but be inspired by the idealism. Here are some of my favorite Transcendental pearls:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he had imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”—Henry David Thoreau
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”—Henry David Thoreau
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”—Henry David Thoreau
“So behave that the odor of your actions may enhance the general sweetness of the atmosphere, that when we behold or scent a flower, we may not be reminded how inconsistent your deeds are with it; for all odor is but one form of advertisement of a moral quality, and if fair actions had not been performed, the lily would not smell sweet. The foul slime stands for the sloth and vice of man, the decay of humanity; the fragrant flower that springs from it, for the purity and courage which are immortal.”—Henry David Thoreau
“Wherever a man goes, men will pursue him and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate oddfellow society.”—Henry David Thoreau
“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”—Henry David Thoreau
“Simplicity is the glory of expression.”–Walt Whitman
“Be curious, not judgmental.”—Walt Whitman
“Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.”—Walt Whitman
“I cannot be awake for nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.”—Walt Whitman
“To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.”–Walt Whitman
“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems. You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . there are millions of suns left. You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . . . nor look through the eyes of the dead . . . . nor feed on the spectres in books. You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me. You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”
“There was never any more inception than there is now, nor any more youth or age than there is now; and will never be any more perfection than there is now, nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”–“Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, whythen to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
“An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail.”–Walden, Henry David Thoreau
“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Obviously, the commonality in these two modes of thinking is the idea that we are the masters of our own destinies; we are the captains of our ships. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. This is the fundamental appeal of these beliefs for me. I love these beautiful ideas; I revel in the wisdom of these two philosophies. The practical advice they give for surviving in a savage world that seems hopeless, gives me hope–Yet, I don’t really believe any of it for a minute. Something deep inside of me says I am not completely in control, I am not the center of my universe, I am not in charge of today, let alone tomorrow. So, I turn to Modernism, Deism, maybe even some Buddhism. The effort to define life’s truths continues. Perhaps I’ll start my own philosophical movement to incorporate bits and pieces of all these things, but that sounds a lot like something an Existential-Transcendentalist would do.—Christina Knowles