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“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.” 10 Great Quotes on Life from John Lennon

Lessons from a Rock and Roll Spiritual Seeker

John Lennon may have had more in common with the great thinkers of any age than with other songwriters who were his contemporaries. Certainty he was first in a cadre of rock stars who used their celebrity as a force for good, paving the way for Bono and Bob Geldof by decades.

He found his way out of a turbulent life and troubled, working-class childhood and grew into different roles  – from Rock Star, peace advocate, social activist, women’s rights advocate, and managed to fashion a philosophy that elevated the human spirit and encouraged people to work, individually and collectively, toward a better world.  Like Socrates, Lennon wanted to stimulate people to think for themselves. “There ain’t no guru who can see through your eyes,” he sings in “I Found Out.”

Lennon said he knew he was ‘different,’ even as a child, sometimes feeling lost and bewildered by it.  “I was different from the others. I was different all my life. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius. There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn’t see. I was always so psychic or intuitive or poetic or whatever you want to call it, that I was always seeing things in a hallucinatory way.”

Throughout his short life, Lennon fought many existential battles with himself and whatever he thought of as God. To interpret Lennon’s spiritual hunger, Lennon searched for and sang about the truth, discarding religious indoctrination and accepted norms when they proved unhelpful.

In 1966 Lennon was famously quoted as saying that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.  The quote sparked outrage in both the US and the UK, but the real problem with what Lennon said was that there was an element of truth in what he said. The Beatles WERE more popular (meant more) than Jesus himself for youth in England and America at that time- as do television, video games and many other things of this world to many people today.

Lennon’s personal spiritual journey was a public one; from his experimentation with drugs; his encounters with the Maharishi; to his undertaking of primal scream therapy, which helped to grow a number of self help/spiritual fads that mirrored the shifting moods of more than one generation.  In fact, The Beatles 1968 visit to India to learn Transcendental Meditation at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is credited by some as the first change in attitudes in the West about Indian spirituality. Amidst widespread media attention, their stay at the ashram was one of the band’s most productive periods.

John Lennon was a man who both reflected his times and influenced them. He did his searching right out in the open. And if anything, he was probably too honest about both his doubts and his beliefs for his time.  ”Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today,” said Lennon, in the anthem that for many defined his life. “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.”

Ironically, Mark David Chapman, who shot Lennon in 1980, said that he had become obsessed with the political messages in Lennon’s music. He was incensed by Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” remark and stated he was further enraged by “God”, and “Imagine.”

Toward the end of his short life, Lennon referred to himself a “Zen Christian.” He left us with a great legacy of self-examination and spiritual philosophy.

(photo credit: Infamous last photo of Lennon taken by Annie Leibovitz hours before his death.)

10 Great Quotes from John Lennon:

1)    You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are.

2)    If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.

3)    A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.

4)    Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.

5)    I can’t wake you up. You can wake you up. I can’t cure you. You can cure you.

6)    Life is what happens while you are making other plans.

7)    God is a concept by which we measure our pain.

8)    Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted.

9)    If someone thinks that love and peace are a cliché that were left behind in the 60’s, that’s his problem. Love and Peace are eternal.

10) We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant….you’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.

Which one is your favorite? Tell us below!


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I Hope We Wake Up Together Next Year – 3 Reasons Why We Should

review of wake up festival

At this time last week, I was sitting in my chair in Estes Park Colorado, at The Wake Up Festival, listening to Jeff Foster, day three of my journey there. At least I think I was sitting in my chair – I may have been floating in the air, or laying on the floor dying into Who I am.

It was an incredible experience and I’m about to give an unabashedly impassioned retrospective of this festival. Not because I’m paid to do so by any means, but because, as I sat there in my chair, I wished that I could give every one of my friends and family the gift of attending this festival.

First though, it’s not a “festival,” like say Wanderlust or Coachella. It’s five days of something in between what Sunday School or church should have been and the courses you wish they would have taught in University.  It’s extremely well run, featuring the best of the best of modern day spiritual teachers, Ivy League professors and heads of Clergy, shaman and mystics and few sound healers too.

I’m a Virgo and very prone to my sign’s traits of being able to point out how anything could be done better, and I don’t think a festival or gathering of this kind could be done better.  It’s deep – there’s none of the superficial sales-y stuff I somehow find myself in at “spiritual” events in my hometown of Los Angeles.  It’s the real deal. It’s delivers raw truth in the teachings, the kind that you wouldn’t expect to experience at something with the name ‘festival’ in the title.  This is a place to go and absorb.

I don’t know if there were fifty people there, five hundred or five thousand. But when Jack Kornfield got up on stage, there was just he and I. He found a crack in my heart that I didn’t even know was there, and filled it with an intangible wisdom and courage that stuck, right in the place where the book I read last week was already forgotten.

I almost didn’t make it. My husband had a huge new business meeting, I couldn’t find anyone to cover for me to watch our two young kids. One of my daughters was in a play I had to miss. This website was having technical issues – how could I justify letting all those things go to cover the Wake Up Fest?  The list of things goes on, but I’m so grateful I made it. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be such a unique personal experience. I was going as a member of the media, but I came home a filled soul.

Here’s 3 Reasons why you should consider attending next year:

1- Many of us just don’t prioritize physically attending events like this, and instead practice alone or in a cyber space.  (And in fact many people don’t even have access to this type of open-minded spiritual gatherings where they live.)   We used to gather to hear uplifting messages in the weekly Sunday meetings of the traditional churches we grew up in, but now many people have a hole where the experience of spiritual community used to reside. So if you are a modern seeker, you must seek a physical community.

2 – To hear these great masters, teachers & authors deliver their message, to practice with them in person is priceless. It’s like the difference between looking a photo of the ocean or being there. (bonus: they’re all accessible at the event – bring your books to get signed.)

3- It’s a great tragedy that our educational system provides no curricula for life.  There is plenty of college worthy content in this space – scientific studies on happiness, libraries of philosophical theories and of course loads of unifying spiritual beliefs that should teach us about being human, about dealing with life’s ups and downs.  This four days of life class.

It’s for those reasons; finding community and the deepening of wisdom, that I hope you’ll either attend the Wake Up Festival, or find something similar that provides this experience.

Personally, I wish I could attend something like this every week or every month. I can’t, but I do hope you’ll meet me there next year – I’ll definitely send you a reminder! (Make sure you’re signed up for our email list.)

Here’s a run down, the nuggets if you will, of what I took away from the speakers I personally heard. (There were many more – I missed Adyashanti and others – and each of these speakers provided so much wisdom, it would be impossible to get it all down but there’s a lot of great messages from these masters below!) Enjoy, and if you were there, please add or share your experience below.

Also, since you’ll have to wait a year for the next Wake Up Festival, we’ve put together a page of our favorite books by these teachers on page 1 in our Amazon store.

Wake Up Festival Highlights:

Tara Brach-

Tara gave us a two hour lesson on the nature of fear. It was powerful. Epic even. She reminded us that it’s not about getting rid of fear. We need it, we are conditioned to have it. But our frontal cortex allows us to be mindful toward it, and to find freedom to relate to it. We have the equipment we need to wake up out of the trance of fear. She explained that the whole of the spiritual path is to meet your edge and allow it. Then she invited us to have tea with our fears.

Mark Nepo -

Author Mark Nepo enlightened us on the importance of story, how we each have our individual stories, but that we are also part of each other’s stories. He told the story of how his grandmother made him feel special, and gave him the confidence to go forward with his story.  (Which, is similar to my experience — the name of this website is not only a nod to joy (gladness) but also to my grandmother Gladis.)

Mark reminded us that you can’t step into the same river twice – a story also evolves based on our perception, and our personal growth…over time some stories become more important than others.  The story we’re in takes time to tell itself.  Have patience and courage to let the story evolve. We do see our stories differently as time goes by. Write them down.

Sandra Ingerman-

Sandra was the only Shaman and one of the few mystics on the speakers roster. She gave a great introduction to Shamanism, reminding people that it’s the oldest spiritual practice known to man – it dates back over 100,000 years and it was practiced all over the world, by every culture.  Everyone in the world has ancestors who practiced it. There are culture specific ceremonies, but shamanism is not specific to certain culture.

Sandra explained Shamanism and how to work with spirits; spirits can help you ride the waves of life and connect us to source. It’s a path of direct revelation. The key to learning about it is to practice it, she said. It’s about the experience.

David Whyte-

Oh my, David Whyte. He was the keynote speaker on Friday evening. I’ve read his poetry, but have to be honest; I don’t ever find myself buying books of poetry. But when David Whyte stood on stage and spoke, for 90 minutes, reciting his own poetry, and also quoting the famous and not so famous philosophers and sages, without ever once looking at any notes, never once interrupting the melody of his poetry with an “ummm” or a “like,”  I simply melted.

When David spoke, I could clearly imagine a time, long ago, where women fell in love with and swooned over poets and writers and intellectuals instead of rockstars and soccer players and reality stars. As it should be.

One of the many things he told us is that what we’re most afraid of is our own unhappiness. Because “if you were to claim it, everything in your world would require downsizing – all the parts of you that told you it was not possible would need new jobs.”

If you ever have the chance to hear him, please don’t miss it.

Dr. Kelly McGonigal-

This PhD, Stanford professor and yogini took us through slideshows of the brain that should have put you to sleep, but each slide and study that she explained was SO fascinating – this is the class that should be a requirement for any diploma.

She took us through the functions of the prefrontal cortex, the Insula, the anterior cingulate cortex, and after showing us how the different parts of the brain work together, and how they signal other parts of the body, she explained how to connect with our highest self and stop identifying with the suffering. I mean seriously, how do we NOT learn this stuff in school?

Jeff Foster-

This guy must be creating lots of spiritual crushes everywhere he goes. He’s like a younger surfer version of Eckhart Tolle, but with a British accent.  He delivers his words with a really unique style, lush with intent, humor and compassion. His talks were like an orchestra of sensations for the ears, brain and heart to process together, to take in his direct and uncompromising message, which comes broken up with his funny laugh, and the too long pauses… which you later realize a real gift, to allow you the time to inhale and exhale….and allow his words go straight to your heart and feel their truth.

Jeff inspired a separate, full article of quotes. But my favorite piece of advice from Jeff’s keynote: “Perhaps all our suffering is pointing to the same place. Perhaps even this is God. Perhaps even this is grace. Even if it’s not the grace you read about in the books. You’re not really interested in a second hand life – in living someone else’s life. You want to taste it, taste life right now because you want to be alive.   Taste the moment, the pain, don’t try to escape.”

Seane Corn-

The gorgeous Yogi entertained the crowd with her humor and her passion to move people to make difference. She pointed out that many people – no, most people in the world – live in perpetuated oppression, never allowed to challenge what religious authority tells them. Put to death for it even. But not us. We can question, evolve, transform, seek the truth. What a blessing. And why us? Were we just born at a lucky latitude or longitude or are we living out some karmic progression? I don’t know the answer, but we DO get to do this, be in this free-thinking, truth-seeking community of discovery. What a gift.

My favorite quote from her, paraphrased – “It’s why we must go deep, get raw, celebrate the opportunity to grow and transform. We do it not to be right, but because we make the world better. We make the world better not by being right, but by being love. By understanding the wholeness of our being. By expressing love and knowing truth. And we will make peace inevitable.”

Rabbi Rami Shapiro-

Rabbi Rami, delivered a fantastic, humorous talk on why he loves religion, and why it’s also really scary.

He points out that all religions stumble around the same ideas. Even though they divide us, every religion has the same perinnial philosophy or idea: The throught that you are not who you think you are. The extent to which you identify with who you think you are, is the extent to which you live with alienation, fear, suffering violence.  The extent to which you live in the larger sense is the ability to live in more joy, peace and have an ability to make the world better.

He explained how religion is a human construct. How it is brilliant when it taps into something beautiful like “love your neighbor as you love yourself’ – and then the tragic irony of a religion that says ‘love your neighbor, but kill or hate all those people over there.”   God is not like that. People are like that.  Religions do that to get people to commit to their ideas. Religions are brands with taglines and slogans. (Death sells.) Question yours. Always.

Matthew Fox-

Matthew Fox lead a non-denominational “Cosmic Mass” service on Saturday night, the closest that this festival got to being a festival the way I think of the word. I hadn’t heard of Matthew, and feel that I need to introduce him to explain this event:  Matthew Fox is an internationally acclaimed spiritual theologian, an Episcopal priest, and an activist who was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years. He holds a doctorate, summa cum laude, in the History and Theology of Spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris. As a spiritual theologian, he has written 30 books that have been translated into 48 languages and have received numerous awards.

With the Rabi, Sandra Ingerman Shaman, and Tami Simon joining him on stage, Matthew kicked off a mass that I at first I couldn’t quite fit in with the rest of my Wake Up experience, but days later I understand that of course everything there has purpose and meaning ,and his presence was a part of dismantling my own ideas of what a church service looks like.  He’s certainly a radical, but our times call for radical leaders.

He reminded us that for most of human history, dance has been an important part of spiritual ritual. (And we danced, with Shiva Rea and Djs) We were reminded that the Pope did not invent mass. That we need to stop challenging the priests and pastors to keep us awake in the pew, but to become our own priests.  He told us not to abandon religion and ritual just because the modern church abandoned us, but reminded us that we must gather in new ways to meet our modern needs. He pointed out that the West remains so out of touch with its own mystical tradition that many Westerners seeking mysticism still feel they have to go East to find it. But we can create the practice and find the wisdom our soul seeks and knows is true, he said. And so we did.

Anne Lamott-

Anne is probably the person you’ll most want to have dinner with when this festival is over. She is as hilarious and loudly individual as you’d expect and then some.  Feminist, mother, writer, comedienne, philosopher and intellectual, she’s like the crazy aunt that enters a room and casts a spell of wonder on every adult and at the same time makes every child there feel that there’s no one so special as them. You see your own specialness, your wildness in Anne Lamott.

Anne on Life:  Life is like driving in the dark at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little ways, but that’s all you need to make the whole journey.

Anne on Writing: “You write and write and it’s great but then you have to cut 75 pages. So you go back and kill your little darlings that were so perfect and so well said, but they were not human, they were arrogant and weighty. So you cut them and thank them for getting you to the human stuff. Those days writing those words were not wasted.  It’s just like meditation. I sit, it goes badly. The bell rings, and it’s ok because I get a piece of me back. And I still get full credit.”

Jack Kornfield-

Who better to close five days of being in spirit, getting to know your soul, and connecting to the higher source, than the author of After The Ecstasy, the Laundry”?

Words truly can not describe how amazing his closing keynote was.  I probably would have messed up the whole experience once I got home, if he hadn’t been there to take us home to the message. He led us through a couple of beautiful meditations, a poignant closing ritual, and mostly talked to us about this path, reminding us that everyone has triumphs and losses on it. “Last year foolish monk, this year no change,” he said.

He surprised most of us in the audience when he told us his wife asked for a divorce last year, after almost thirty years of marriage. He reminded us that “we all get lost, that we forget, in our small sense of self, and then we remember, that we are not that limited person. Your loving awareness, your spirit, can not be taken.” No matter what our circumstances when we get home.

“Who do you think you are?” he asked, “Who is born into that body with patches of fury hair, with a hole to put in plants and dead animals…how did you get in there?  You come here and get joy and sorrow, pain and happiness. It’s the curriculum. It teaches the heart how to love.  It’s messy.”

The secret of all of this, (“this” being both life, and being on this path) is to act well, without attachment to your emotions or what happens in your life. It’s about not depending on your hopes for the results of things. That’s the key.

His parting advice:  ”Find the people who love the inner life. You need community.”

So, the over-riding message, take away from the Wake Up Festival, as I experienced it?  Wake Up. Wake up to being present and fully alive. Wake up with this community of seekers of truth, to the acceptance of Suffering, and it’s trusty side-kick Fear, as part of the human experience. Don’t shame them away, or shut them away; invite them to tea instead.

review of wake up festivalWere you there? Do you recommend it to others? Please add, and tell others about your experience below!

Editor’s update:  click here for info on the 2014 event.




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“What am I?”

“Who am I?” or “What am I?” are questions that have perplexed humanity since the beginning of modern times. From the great philosophers, to the ancient sages and the common person, mankind has invested limitless time pondering these questions.   And yet, one challenge to finding the answers this is the mind itself – it’s our human nature to be inquisitive, and the mind can often override our ability to “let it be”.  While we are hesitant to put the brakes on our spinning wheels and relinquish mental control, the very answer to this age-old contemplation may lie in allowing the questions to dissolve rather than be solved. In other words, be courteous and get out of your own way.

What a beautiful, rewarding process personal transformation can be if we surrender our conditioned beliefs and open the door to attuning our many spiritual layers. It takes work, but it can be the most rewarding work you can do. was enlightened by the message of Dr. Ravi Ravindra in recognizing and transforming these layers, and hope it influences your thinking patterns likewise:

Aligning to the Divinity Within

By:  Dr. Ravi Ravindra

All great teachers have said that human beings do not live the way they should, and the way they could.  In a Christian context we would find suggestions that in general human beings live in sin, but that they could live in the grace of God; in a Buddhist context the suggestion is that we live as if asleep, but we could wake up.  This is what the Buddha did. In fact the very word ‘buddha’ means ‘one who is awake.’

Similarly, in other traditions there are ways of indicating the gap between the way we live and the way we could. To live rightly needs education, teriqua, transformation; this in turn needs a discipline, a spiritual path, a yoga.  Science is interested in discovering the way it is; spiritual traditions can hardly ignore the way it is, but they are more interested in assisting an aspirant to discover the way it could be. This requires a radical transformation of a person’s entire being—mind, body and heart.

Why is transformation needed? When we look at ourselves without self‑pity and self‑justification, we find ourselves conflicted, doing things which we do not want to do, and saying what we do not want to say. Why do we do wrong, even against our own better judgment?  Simply because we are self-centered and self-occupied.  Being full of ourselves, we don’t let Truth or God or Reality guide or run our life.  There is a simple Hasidic saying, “There is no room in him for a God who is full of himself.”

If we become aware of the strong forces which keep us away from the Real, a deep-seated part in us, a particle of Divinity, wishes to be free of these constricting forces. Within each human being there is an element oriented to the Truth, to God or to Brahman. There is a force of attraction resulting from a vision of something sublime or an experience of true love, beauty or harmony. We begin to sense the truth of the universal testimony of all the sages in the history of humanity that the entire space is permeated with subtle and conscious energies—variously called the Holy Spirit, Allah, Brahman, the Buddha Mind, or simply the One or That—and we wish to be in touch with that all pervading Reality.  We can be more and more convinced that transformation is needed in order to realize what the sages have attested from their experience as the Truth. Practice is needed in order to prepare one’s whole being—body, mind and heart—so that one can be in contact with the Holy Spirit.

We cannot create this subtle Reality, but we can become receptive to it.  This demands a lot of preparation and sacrificing of what one is attached to and ultimately of me-me-me.  And it is important to note that all spiritual disciplines aim at freedom not for myself but from myself. This freedom from oneself is sometimes described in stronger terms of “dying to oneself” in the ancient texts.

There are many obstacles (kleshas) to transformation.  The most important one being ignorance (avidyÅ), primarily of our true nature and of our relationship with the cosmos. It is because of this deep-seated ignorance that we take the transient parts of ourselves—such as the body and the mind—for what is said by all the sages to be eternal, namely the spirit. If we begin to see more and more subtly, we begin to realize that human beings are the organs of perception of the cosmos. As is remembered in the Islamic tradition that “Allah said,  ‘I was a hidden treasure and wished to be known.  Therefore, I created man.’”

Human beings have a special calling.  They can be not only organs of perception in the cosmos but also instruments of right action. With more and more spiritual development, they can invoke the help of higher levels within themselves as well as outside—the devas, angels, God—and fulfill their proper role, remembering that without God it cannot be done; without human beings it will not be done.

It is important for us not to fix an image of God, as is sometimes necessitated for the purposes of culture and of visual arts—as we can see in the painting of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, ironically in the citadel of a tradition committed to struggle against making graven images of God.  It is, of course, easier to be against other peoples’ images than our own.  This is why a continual turning to an impartial self-knowledge is the sine qua non of any serious spiritual discipline. As Christ said, “The Kingdom is inside you, and it is outside you. ” (Gospel of Thomas II,2:3).

Ultimately we return again and again to the Great Mystery ‘What am I?’ Ko’ham? Unlike scientific mysteries, real spiritual mysteries cannot be solved even in principle, but by a steady practice of contemplation the mind and the heart can soar to another level of insight and love where the mystery is dissolved.  Then one does not deny it or reject it and is not frightened by it. One celebrates the Mystery in song or dance or poetry or philosophy or physics. However, the person has been transformed by the mystery, somewhat freed from oneself, and born of the Spirit.

Only thirteen days before his death, the celebrated poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote a short poem in Bengali, his native language, which in an English translation would read:

In the beginning of my life,

With the first rays of the rising sun,

I asked, ‘Who am I?’

Now at the end of my life,

With the last rays of the setting sun,

I ask, ‘Who am I?’

Dr. Ravindra’s spiritual search has led him to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, G. I. Gurdjieff, Zen, Yoga, and a deep immersion in the mystical teachings of the Indian and Christian classical traditions. He is the author of several books on religion, science, mysticism, and spirituality.

See some of Dr. Ravindra’s Retreats listed in our Retreats calendar.

[Editors Note: This article was originally featured on – a featured retreat destination!]:

Get deep.  How do you prepare yourself for personal transformation? (Share the great books you have read or practices you’ve adopted!) 


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Magic is Believing In Yourself…And More Quotes from Goethe on His Birthday

Happy Birthday to Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. He was born in Frankfurt on August 28, 1749.  We love ancient wisdom at, and Goethe, who is known as the German Shakespeare, is no exception.   He is regarded as one of the greatest intellectuals of his time and some consider him to be one of the greatest literary figures of the modern era.

Andy Warhol’s Goethe

Some Cliff Notes on Goethe:

He was a true polymath – a philosopher, poet, playwright, novelist, scientist and statesman. In addition to writing a number of brilliant plays, poems, novels and autobiographical works, he also painted and drew. Goethe had a lifelong interest in natural sciences and pursued studies in geology, biology and anatomy.   His sublime view of nature and art was often reflected in his works while being mixed with mystical elements. Faust, Goethe’s best known drama in the U.S., tells the story of a man who offers his soul to the devil in exchange for worldly pleasures and earthly fulfillment.   Goethe succeeded, as few others did, in making his life an example of the full range of human potential. He died in Weimar in 1832 and he is and was internationally recognized as a literary giant.

Two more pieces of Goethe trivia:   First, he also had the largest private collection of minerals in all of Europe. In order to gain a comprehensive view of geology, he had collected 17,800 rock samples by the time of his death, and there is a mineral (“Goethite”) named after him.    Second, Goethe created one of the earliest formal explorations of color theory.  In 1810, he published Theory of Colours, which explored the psychological impact of different colors on mood and emotion.

You say it’s your birthday?  Well, it’s my birthday too and I’m honored to share it with this particular philosopher.  Here my top 10 favorite Goethe quotes, my birthday gift to you – and me.

In gratitude for this day,



1)  “Nothing is worth more than this day.”


2)  “Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.”


3)  “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”


4)  “The greatest evil that can befall man is that he should come to think ill of himself.”


5)  “One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.”


6)  “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”


7)  “Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound.”


8)  “I am fully convinced that the soul is indestructible, and its activity will continue through eternity.”


9)  “It is ever true that he who does nothing for others, does nothing for himself.”


10)  “Whatever you can do or dream, begin it.”


What’s your favorite? Let us know.

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In Honor of Henry David Thoreau’s Birthday – Be Yourself, and Define Your Own Success

“…be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” 
― Henry David Thoreau

Today would be the 195th birthday of legendary philosopher, poet, political pundit, abolitionist, and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, who remains, to this day, one of the world’s most important voices for environmentalism, protest (his work against slavery) and the true nature of the self vs. consumer culture.

We know, it’s been awhile since you were tested on history, but here’s your Cliff Notes / abbreviated Wiki:

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic,surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state. He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law. Thoreau’s philosophy of civil disobedience later influenced the political thoughts and actions of such notable figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.     Thoreau studied at Harvard University between 1833 and 1837.

Thoreau’s family owned a pencil factory, which he worked in for much of his life. He was taken under the wing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Emerson took a paternal and at times patronizing interest in Thoreau, advising the young man and introducing him to a circle of local writers and thinkers – and of course Emerson was responsible for sending him to live on his land at Walden Pond.  Thoreau also lived with the Emersons at times, serving as the children’s tutor, an editorial assistant, and repair man/gardener.

Thoreau’s books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry total over 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close natural observation, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore, while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity, and “Yankee” love of practical detail. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life’s true essential needs.

Thoreau contracted tuberculosis in 1835 and suffered from it sporadically afterwards. Recognizing the terminal nature of his disease, Thoreau spent his last  three years revising and editing his unpublished works, particularly The Maine Woods and Excursions, and petitioning publishers to print revised editions of A Week and Walden. He also wrote letters and journal entries until he became too weak to continue. His friends were alarmed at his diminished appearance and were fascinated by his tranquil acceptance of death. When his aunt Louisa asked him in his last weeks if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau responded: “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

Thoreau’s last words were “Now comes good sailing”, followed by two lone words, “moose” and “Indian”. He died on May 6, 1862 at age 44.

From the conclusion of Walden Pond:

“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 has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

In Thoreau’s honor….what are you doing to live the life of your dreams?  If you’re not, what’s holding you back?


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