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A Strenuous, Deliberate Life Photo July 12, 2020

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“When from a long distance past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny, and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

 

– quoted from “Overture” in Swann’s Way, Volume 1 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

 

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

 

– quoted from The Captive, Volume 5 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

It’s human to look back over your days. Sometimes we do it intentionally, deliberately – like the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who would end each day by reviewing what he had done between rising and retiring. It’s a good reflection meditation, which can help us be more productive and (sometimes) can help us to sleep better by literally putting to bed unresolved issues that might have otherwise kept us awake. Sometimes, however, memories just kind of pop up.

We can be eating a madeleine or a biscuit, sitting by a moonlit lake, reading a book, listening to music, sitting down to take off or put on our shoes, or practicing on our mat and suddenly – out of nowhere it seems – we are bombarded with a very visceral memory. It seems as if it comes from nowhere, but it actually comes from inside of us. It is visceral because we not only feel it all the way to our bones it comes out of our bones, out of our tissues, out of our minds and bodies.

So, memories (and reflection) are things that happen to humans and things we humans do. The question is, how do you make remembering useful? How do you show up, in the present, when your mind transports you into the past? How do you remember with the intention of Thoreau and the eye of Eastman?

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

Born today in 1817, in Concord Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau was a teacher and a writer, who is remembered as a writer and naturalist. Thoreau self-published his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers on May 30, 1849. It was the story of a trip he took with his brother John over 10 years before. I have heard that the brothers were close despite having different temperaments. Henry David was introverted and all about the books; John was out-going, extroverted, and fun-loving. John supported Henry David’s every endeavor – helping him pay for tuition at Harvard and even started a new school when Henry David was fired for objecting to corporal punishment. When John died, unexpectedly, in his brother’s arms, Henry David floundered. He lived with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s family for a period of time, as a teacher to the Emerson children, and (along with Edward Hoar) would accidentally burn several hundred acres of Walden Woods. Not long after the fire, Emerson allowed Thoreau to retreat to a cabin located on 14 acres of land 1.5 miles from Emerson House. Henry David Thoreau would live in the cabin, on the banks of Walden Pond, for two years, two months, and two days. He would spend that time writing the memorial to his brother and the work most people associate with the name Thoreau: a collection of essays entitled Walden, or Life in the Woods.

“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, why then 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.”

 

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

 

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

 

– George Eastman

George Eastman, born today in 1854, in Waterville, New York, was an entrepreneur, inventor, and philanthropist who founded the Eastman Kodak Company. He and two older sisters (Ellen Maria and Katie) were initially raised on a 10-acre farm his parents purchased shortly before George was born, but their father – a successful entrepreneur himself – died of a brain disorder when Eastman was almost 8 years old. By then living in Rochester, NY, the Eastman family’s life on the farm was but a memory. George, who had been self-taught until his father’s death, was sent to private school and his mother took in boarders in order to survive. By the time he was 15, the youngest of his sisters (Katie) had died of polio and (soon after) George left school and started a photography business.  By the time he was 30 years old, George Eastman had patented the first practical “roll of film” and before the age of 35 he had developed the Kodak Black camera, designed to use roll film. George Eastman’s company would become the first, and the leading company, to supply film stock and he incorporated what would become a billion dollar company (with a made up name).

Henry David Thoreau was a transcendentalist and an abolitionist who read the Bhagavad Gītā and believed in civil disobedience. He spent a (very) short period of time in jail for “tax evasion” – which was not the first time he had refused to pay something he thought he should not have to pay – and possibly helped others escape tax liens. He was criticized for a number of things throughout his lifetime, including the decision to live alone with those regulated to the fringes of society (which some viewed as “unmanly”). His maternal grandfather, Asa Dunbar, led a student revolt at Harvard in 1766 (the first recorded in the United States) and Thoreau’s philosophy and viewpoints regarding “unjust laws” (like the Fugitive Slave Law, which he frequently attacked in lectures), would influence Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. His legacy to the modern world includes over 20 volumes worth of articles, essays, journals, and poetry.

“Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid; and the like. Others have been curious to learn what portion of my income I devoted to charitable purposes; and some, who have large families, how many poor children I maintained…. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”

 

– quoted from “Economy” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

George Eastman also lived a solitary life (in that he never married or had children). He was considered a progressive in the social and political sense. He fought the labor union movement by offering worker benefit programs, which included employee profit-sharing for all employees. He also promoted Florence McAnaney to the top position in the personnel department – establishing her as one of the first women to hold an executive position in a major U. S. company. He also founded “an independent non-partisan agency for keeping citizens informed” in Rochester, which continues to this day.

“If a man has wealth, he has to make a choice, because there is the money heaping up. He can keep it together in a bunch, and then leave it for others to administer after he is dead. Or he can get it into action and have fun, while he is still alive. I prefer getting it into action and adapting it to human needs, and making the plan work.”

 

– George Eastman

As a philanthropist, Eastman donated (often anonymously, as Mr. Smith”) millions of dollars to a variety of organizations including the University of Rochester (which was also the beneficiary of his estate), the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He established the Eastman School of Music and schools of dentistry and medicine at the University of Rochester, as well as the Eastman Dental Hospital in London, England. Low-income residents of London and other European cities also benefited from Eastman’s generosity as he provided funds for multiple clinics across the pond. Eastman also donated millions to Tuskegee University and Hampton University – historically black universities.

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….”

 

– George Eastman

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 12th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

An “Interesting” Development

 

 

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