Last year, when my fabulous student teacher was tasked with introducing our Juniors to Transcendentalism
, she created an interesting lesson and homework assignment to help them understand the premise of Henry David Thoreau's Walden
. Instead of taking a year to themselves, living alone in a cabin, in the woods, as Thoreau did at Walden pond, she instructed our students to take one hour to themselves during the two day span between class periods. For the assignment, they had to spend one hour without their phones, computers, television, books, sketch pads, or the company of others (though I believe she allowed dog walks). During this time, they were encouraged to get outside, though it was not mandatory, but they were forbidden from napping the hour away. Afterwards, they wrote briefly about how the time made them feel.
reproduction of the cabin at Walden pond
The assignment demonstrated the self-reliance and isolation some of the Transcendentalists must have felt, and it gave the students a glimpse of how life could
be different. When they returned to class, instead of have a debate, Miss R. urged them to silently write their thoughts and feelings on the board and respond to other students' thoughts and feelings. As expected, an overwhelming number of our students HATED their hour to themselves. "Boring." "Too quiet." "Missed my friends." These sentiments dominated the board space. In among the negative responses, comments like, "Refreshing," "Relaxing," and "I want to do that more often" arose.
Our sixteen and seventeen-year-old students, many of whom were raised with cell phones, internet, and hundreds of cable television channels did not understand the simple joy of having time to themselves. Instead, they feared isolation. For most of them, the sudden disconnect from friends, Twitter, Facebook, and everything that made them "part of society," felt too jarring, too uncomfortable.
, Thoreau states, “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.” This deliberate living, learning from what the earth/ woods/ world taught, and hope to actually live--all of these constitute a mindful existence. By making the decision to spend a year alone, Henry David Thoreau made mindfulness happen for himself each day.