Choosing to Live, Deliberately

Henry David Thoreau

This is one of my favorite Joseph Campbell quotes: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

Upon first hearing these words, I thought to myself, “But I know what I want and I am building my life towards that goal”. But Campbell does not mean we should not have goals, but encourages us, rather, to say “Yes” to opportunities that present themselves before us.

Saying, “Yes” to new opportunities, even ones that are in opposite directions of our planned goals”, is a way of saying yes to life.

Life is unpredictable, just as adventure is. If we say no to adventure or new opportunity, we are closing the door on possibility.

However, some doors should remain closed. Some opportunities should be declined. One has to use their own common sense and good judgment.

“Believe nothing. No matter where you read it,Or who said it, Even if I have said it, Unless it agrees with your own reason And your own common sense”. Buddha

When we say no to possibility, we let ourselves down. Saying “No” to adventure is the most boring of options and outcomes.

Have you seen Jim Carrey´s film “Yes Man”? It plays with this concept. His character is forever saying no to opportunity. When he commits to saying yes, his whole life becomes an adventure.

Most of us want to feel alive. Campbell describes a moment that I think articulates this need of ours nicely and it sounds so poetic. He refers to this sensation as the “Rapture of Being”. What image comes to your mind? I see a blissful face and sudden awareness of our condition or consciousness. The veil of illusion parts for a moment and we have a sudden illumination of what it is to be alive.

Saying yes to opportunity can squarely thrust us into the field of Living. In this field of purposeful commitment—a commitment to not let life pass us by, but to “suck out the very marrow of life”, we feel and experience greatly. Saying yes to the unknown (possibility or potential) is going to cause us to be active participants in what life has to offer, which is a huge adventure in being alive.

The Buddhists tell us that life is suffering and that desire (and the lack of its achievement), produces suffering. With this in mind, Campbell tells us that we can “choose to live joyfully, within the sorrows of the world”. This points to saying yes, too.

Are you a victim in your life, forever being “done to”? Or are you doing? Are you engaging by saying yes to adventure or do you refuse the heralds call to adventure and reap the consequences of that action?

In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately”.

Thoreau likely meant this both literally and symbolically.

He did live in the woods around Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

“The Woods”, symbolically speaking (or the forest), are a common image used to illustrate the unknown. The forest is a place of mystery, of dark and light. The big bad wolf lives in the woods, as does Titania, the fairy queen of Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night´s Dream. Much can happen in the woods and many a fairy tale takes place in this land of the “unconscious”.

Choosing to live in the woods, because one chooses to live deliberately can be interpreted to mean that one chooses to live in the realm of adventure.

Jim Hart is the founder of Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts, The Hart Technique, The International Theatre Academy Norway and Sleeping Hero Productions, LLC.


4 thoughts on “Choosing to Live, Deliberately

  1. In terms of saying yes to life, where is the line between responsibility and adventure? If every moment in life is actually an adventure, could even saying “no” be a part of that? I wish to say “yes” to everything, because life does feel so much more spontaneous and exciting that way (I’m constantly living on my own edge), but sometimes I wonder how I can actually work if I just say “yes” to every seemingly great opportunity that comes my way.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Prachi.

      I think that you have to use your own good judgment and common sense. Everyone needs some sense of balance. Viewing the saying, “yes” I have written about in this post in a literal and absolute fashion, is extreme and not my intention. I refer to symbol. You have to operate out of what you intuitively believe to be right for you. You know the difference, no doubt.

      Thanks again for your comment.


  2. Pingback: Top Ten Posts « The Hart Technique

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