Associating Reverently

by Craig Green

I recently came across this pithy line from Thoreau:

“Associate reverently, as much as you can, with your loftiest thoughts.”

This is a profound suggestion, a concise prescription for radical self-authoring, self-knowledge. Our souls grow and ripen when we regularly examine our loftiest thoughts and yearnings. But is the suggestion too vague? The sentence may come across rather pious and stilted to today’s readers. What does it entail, associating reverently with one’s loftiest thoughts? And how best invite others to also give voice to their loftiest thoughts, their holiest aspirations, their greatest enjoyments? By swapping in and out synonyms and analogous words, I enhance my understanding of Thoreau’s encouraging words:

Associate playfully with your loftiest thoughts.
Give your imagination to your juciest questions.
Courageously consider your heartfelt calling.
Invest adventurously in your deepest hopes.
Experiment persistently with your profoundest concepts.
Persistently free-associate with your most ardent longings.
Muse ardently on your enduring ideals.
Contemplayfully consider your most alluring aspirations.
Up your game with your most central endeavor.
Reflect with equanimity on your ultimate legacy.
Audaciously illuminate your true colors.
Spaciously investigate your holiest enthusiasms.

Do some of these statements resonate with you more than others? Which? How might you formulate your own statement in this spirit?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still thrilled by Thoreau’s original assertion: Associating reverently is a deep pleasure, a practice that ripens wisdom and courage. Rob Brezsny illuminates the nature of reverence when he writes:

Reverence is one of the most useful emotions. When you respectfully acknowledge the sublime beauty of something greater than yourself, you do yourself a big favor. You generate authentic humility and sincere gratitude, which are healthy for your body as well as your soul.

Please note that reverence is not solely the province of religious people. A biologist may venerate the scientific method. An atheist might experience a devout sense of awe toward geniuses who have bequeathed to us their brilliant ideas.

“What about you? What excites your reverence? I invite you to explore the deeper mysteries of this altered state of consciousness.”

This perspective illuminates a core aspiration of the More Beautiful World study group I facilitate: We seek to cultivate space in which people can reverently reveal and reflect on their loftiest thoughts. It’s empowering and energizing (and sometimes frightening and agitating) to identify the most vital threads of our lives. Evocative quotes and poetry make great springboards for reflection in this spirit.

As a coda on these musings, here’s a poem.

The Way It Is by William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

The thread is your loftiest thought, your calling, your favorite conversation, your raison d’être, your hero’s journey, your north star, your touchstone…. Don’t ever let go of the thread.