“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.”–Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Twenty years ago, when I first opened Thoreau’s Walden, little did I know that my life would never be the same. My mind had just begun to open to new messages, and Thoreau came in and absolutely blew the roof off the place. I had found my soul-mate! I was mesmerized by every last word, reading each passage over before moving on to make sure I absorbed it completely. It was as if he as writing directly to me, or, more accurately, writing right out of my own head. I wanted to highlight every paragraph, to quote every line. Some of my favorites:
“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.”
“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
“If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me.”
“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”
“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
“Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”
Oh, I could go on and on! That book just melted into my soul. I tingled all over as those magical lines burned themselves into my brain, where I would draw on them many times in all the years that have followed. Beautiful words from beautiful minds have that way about them.
Over the course of my life, the three historical characters that I have gravitated towards most are Thoreau, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. I have been captivated by their writings, their speeches, and the lives they led. When I try to come up with my favorite quotes from them, it is very difficult, as nearly everything on record is compelling to me.
With Gandhi, if you forced me to pick two, I might pick the simplest ones, both of which spoke to the way he led. The first is, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The second echoes that sentiment. While visiting Bengal, a reporter asked him, “Do you have a message for the people of India?” His response: “My life is my message.” Oh, if we could all live up to that, just imagine our greatness!
With Dr. King, it is perhaps even more difficult to pin down a couple of favorites. One of them that has inspired me often with Journal of You, particularly when I have debated whether to write about a controversial or revealing topic—God, politics, sexuality, to name a few–is this challenge to the soul: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That one slays my fears every time.
A good quotation is unbelievably powerful. It strikes you right at your core, making your hairs stand on end or unleashing sudden tears or smiles or knowing nods. Some of the ones that hit me at my foundation are about simple life lessons that I need to be reminded of:
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” –Aristotle
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” –Norman Vincent Peale
“You never fail until you stop trying.” –Albert Einstein
“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” –Persian saying
“Peace is every step.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” –Bill Keane (and others)
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw
“The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: I did not have time.” –Anonymous
“If not now, when? If not you, who?” –Hillel the Elder
All of these hit home for me in slightly different ways. They are the little reminders that I need to stay clear about how to navigate this world successfully. They are the random–but pure gold–nuggets of wisdom. I love them individually.
On the other hand, I find that there is one category of quotations that I am drawn to most, one topic from which I can easily churn out a big list of favorites. My soul-stingers are the ones that remind me to seize the day and follow the calling of my heart unflinchingly. They can be summarized by three words from the great Joseph Campbell: “Follow your Bliss.” Here are some of the others in my “Follow your Bliss/This is Not a Dress Rehearsal” category:
“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” –Paulo Coelho
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” –T.S. Eliot
“I am here to live out loud.” –Émile Zola
“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” —Thomas Jefferson
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough!” —Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” –A favorite Pinterest meme
“Leap and the net will appear.” –John Burroughs
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot
“Always do what you are afraid to do.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it—don’t back down and don’t give up—then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.” –Bob Dylan
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin
“You know, we can’t get out of life alive! We can either die in the bleachers or die on the field. We might as well come down on the field and go for it!” –Les Brown
“Don’t die with your music still in you.” –Wayne Dyer (A spin on Thoreau’s line from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”)
These are like zingers right into my heart. I get that surge of adrenaline and clarity whenever I read them. I think that says a lot about what drives me, what is in my soul’s code. These words have magical powers. They are the wind that fills my sails. When I read them, I think they were written just for me. That is the essence of a favorite quote. I do love them so.
How about you? What are your favorite quotations? Open up your journal and start your own list. Is there one particular writer or speaker, like my Thoreau, whose phrases are burned upon your heart more than others? I think most of us just know our favorites when we see them, but are there any quotes that you recite frequently from memory? Are your favorites from all over the map, or do they tend to fall into a certain category, such as love, change, happiness, humor, motivation, family, leadership, or success? Why do you think you gravitate toward that topic? When you come across a quotation that strikes you at your core, what do you do about it? Do you see it as a message that was meant for you and allow it to direct your course of action, or do you dismiss it as mere chance and move on? Now that you have been creating your list, do you feel inclined to post it somewhere, or at least keep it in a notebook that you will open occasionally for a positive reminder? Which ones are your absolute favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words are yours to live by?
Do your best today,
P.S. If our search for quotes stirred your heart and mind a bit today, share it with your world. We could all use a little stirring!