Archive for November 18th, 2022

Castles in the Air

GC Myers- Working to Stillness

Working to Stillness, At Kada Gallery

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.

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

This is a well-known quote from Walden. Maybe the most well-known. It basically states, in my opinion, that we are meant to dream, to imagine better things and circumstances for ourselves. But there comes a time when we have to put the work in to make these dreams a reality.

Pretty sound stuff. The value of work and dreams is not lost on me. My life as it is, as simple and humble as it might seem from the outside, was once a castle in the air. I was leafing through an old journal from when I was 16 or 17 years old and came across a list of goals for my future.

I was surprised at how closely it matched the life I now live. I was pleased at first for it validated this idea that you somehow eventually reach destinations for which you set a course. Then I began to wonder what might have happened had I built my castles even further up in the sky.

Were the goals of an unexceptional and naive 16-year-old too restrained and self-limiting? Or did that 16-year-old know itself better than I currently think it did, that it already recognized its own core strengths and deficiencies?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But I can say that I don’t regret placing the foundation under the castle that I first built in the air when I was young. It suits me.

My one wish is to have time enough to put other foundations under a few other castles that float in the air above me. We shall see.

As it is with most f the quotes I use here, I like to seek out the context in which they appear in their original form. I felt that the paragraphs that end with these words from Thoreau should be shared in full.

There’s still a lot of meat on this old bone:

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

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.

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