“In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.”
-Henry Thoreau, Walden
A famous quote by Ali Ibn Talib states, “How foolish is man! He ruins the present while worrying about the future, but weeps in the future by recalling the past!” I believe that this quote can be applied to many people and is true to a certain extent. Thoreau however seems to be avoiding exactly this style of life and has chosen to live in the present moment instead.
Many of us seem to be unable to let go of our past and/or future completely and cannot manage to simply live in the current moment. Maybe if we were stuck eating lotus we would finally be able to stop worrying about time and be able to resist the urge of trying to control it. Especially to many students this seems impossible since the reason of going to school is usually because they want to have a successful future. So we worry about school as children and teenagers in order to get into a good university and study hard to get a good job in the future. Once we get to that point, we have to work for almost the entire remainder of our lives in order to get retired and before we know it we get old and are unable to do what we could have done in our youth. So we start recalling the past, never able to let go completely and somehow we don’t even realize that we weren’t and still aren’t living in the current moment; never able to stand, as Thoreau calls it, on the meeting of two eternities. This is not necessarily the way it has to be, but it is a system which has been created by humans and is nowadays considered the norm which most people live by barely questioning it.
Thoreau is an exception in many aspects and has decided to question life. Instead of becoming part of the created system and pursuing a career or at least having some kind of stable job Thoreau chooses to go into the woods. Obviously life in the woods isn’t easy, but in the woods it seems to be easier to live in the present.
Our everyday lives are often dictated by time. At a certain hour we need to be in school, then we only have a certain amount of time left of our day, which is often also planned out. We basically depend on clocks and calendars. However timekeeping is merely a human invention. We are the only species on this planet who have created such a precise system to keep track of time. Of course other living organisms, such as animals and plant, can see or sense the difference between night and day, but they haven’t divided their days into hours, minutes and seconds and they haven’t labeled time the way humans have. This also means that they don’t have a reason to worry as much as we do. We also have calendars which can tell us the dates and we know precisely what month and year we’re in. Even if keeping track of time seems helpful to our everyday lives and our current world might not even be able to function properly without it, it also has its dark sides because keeping track of time also means being aware of running out of time. This is a thought many people like to avoid and it can cause them to worry. So time is not only very important but also extremely valuable to most humans.
Time passes in nature as well, but nature doesn’t seem to be stressed out about this fact. Therefore it is also easier for Thoreau to live in the present when he is in nature, rather than when he is in civilization. While in civilization everyone keeps checking their watches and try to solve problems which have not even occurred yet, in nature organism live in the present and just solve their problems, like Thoreau says “in the nick of time,” when and if they actually occur. Thoreau prefers nature’s way rather than societies, so he has chosen the right place to go to. In the woods, by Walden Pond, Thoreau can live in the present without having to worry about deadlines and running out of time and he is basically able to let go of the time-related worries people living in a society seem to have.