Question: What is Walden FIRE and why would you want it? What is FIRE? It stands for Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE). The FIRE movement has a sub-Reddit and there are many web pages and discussion forums devoted to the topic. Ordinary retirement might involve taking care of grandchildren or going on cruises. FIRE is not ordinary retirement because most of us are too young to sit around doing nothing. FIRE might involve buying a boat and traveling around the Caribbean, or becoming an entrepreneur and getting even richer than you are. Now that you are retired, free from corporate culture, who should you be? What ethos do you want to have now that you are free to choose? I will now explain a subset of FIRE which I will call Walden FIRE. Let me set the stage for an intellectual awakening I got upon reading the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher famous for having gone to Walden Pond to live alone and write. I have known of Thoreau and Walden for many decades of my life, mainly for this quotation, “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.” (45). Being an engineer in a chemical plant did not seem to me to be living. I was bored of the repeated tasks and corporate culture. Yet I collected money as I did my work along the Houston ship channel, where chemical engineers are valued.
From Thoreau’s book Walden, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put 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 prove 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” (45). Thesis: Walden FIRE, following in the ethos of Thoreau, seeks depth and meaning for life because one has achieved an abundance of time for reflection. Walden FIRE encompasses people with a creative passion but who aren’t interested in the business of selling, and so have figured out how to avoid the necessity of selling their creations. Walden FIRE overcomes society’s emphasis on being a producer and achieving success through some amazing invention. Walden FIRE is about not selling yourself, just enjoying your creativity. Walden FIRE is founded on living in financial stability in order to create without having to sell. Walden FIRE encompasses simplicity and minimalism. Walden FIRE is an ethos of being that is free from the man, free from the rat race. Walden FIRE could be defined by intellectualism. It is for the intellectual who finally has time to think and contemplate ideas in depth. Instead of devoting our magnificent brains to corporate endeavors, we can use them to decipher great written works or write a great work. Cleverness personified, the Walden FIRE’d are finally able to give concepts and ideas space and time.
“…my greatest skill has been to want but little…” (33). I started my career long before there was FIRE. And being a single person, I’ve never gone in for large houses with much work and cost associated. The result of voluntary poverty is financial freedom. I buy whatever I need, but have little desire for luxuries or distractions. All the expensive running shoes and trips to races. No cruises on big ships or diamond rings or Maseratis. A small abode in a perfect location, not a mansion in a high cost of living bubble.
“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than other works of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips;–not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself” (51). At the age of 58, after a long engineering career, I FIRE’d. I left my career for many reasons. I came to retirement with an idea for a writing project. My writing is something like a compendium of my life’s spiritual work, a life of spiritual study and practice. I am reading Walden in this context. Implication: I have written a book, thus completing phase one of the writing project I brought into retirement with me. My writing is filled with wonderful content but is not in such a form that anyone else would like to read. I have since learned how to write essays. The shaping of which content requires focus and consideration. Remembering the writing’s importance to me is a conscious effort. If I think I want to write a bestseller, my momentum dies. If I think only of producing a masterpiece of words, momentum for the project thrives.
“…I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture (an analogy to Thoreau’s writing), but I had not made it worth anyone’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of others?” (Thoreau, Walden, 9). The highlighted portion is the part that relates to me and my writing. Implication: I have no interest in the business of publishing and peddling books. I am financially in a position to publish what I write and put it out there in the universe for anyone. My idea is to take the contents of my book and write a series of really good essays and publish them where anyone could read them for free. I avoid the necessity of selling books because the FIRE nest-egg was always providing financial independence. As regards success, I brought into retirement a feeling of failure. That is since I didn’t love my career or become a high flying manager, but instead, leaving it the instant I met financial goals, I think I must have failed. And so perhaps, I should sell a book to prove my worth. Well, awareness is the first step. Let go. Enjoy writing for its own sake. What a concept. Stay away from the prostitution of the spiritual words given from the universe itself.
“…trade curses everything it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.” (34) Implication: if your goal in writing a book is to make money, it would be a different sort of book than one created out of selflessness and spiritual conversation. If I thought I needed to sell books to get money, then I should have stayed in my career because it was far easier to earn money than selling books. This concept of freely giving is truer if the book is meant to be of wisdom or spirituality and the content was received from the non-physical.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.” (36). Implication: Leaving your full-time career, and thus reducing your carbon footprint and ceasing to participate in many systems which impoverish others, could be an invisibly charity and mercy.
“The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.” (42). Implication: what if you left your full-time career and devoted yourself to contemplating creation’s never-ending poem? How would it feel to consciously converse with the universe in this manner? The opportunity to hear the poem of creation is an opportunity of Walden FIRE.
Have you not yet FIRE’d? Thoreau would ask you, “Why do you stay here and live this moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you?” (114). Moiling means industrious. Our culture likes industrious. To FIRE is to betray society. FIRE can be costly if society is ones want. Some people try to FIRE but end up industrious anyway. Look to the stars and find a way to quietly enjoy them, without telescope and star plot, trying to know instead of join. With lack of industry, Thoreau says, “The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched” (111). This is true voluntary poverty. Someone asks you what’s new and you don’t know what to say because you spent the day walking in the forest, and darest not disclose this to your industrious neighbor. The Walden FIRE’d perhaps has nothing to show for their life. It was all thoughts.
Conclusion: The Walden FIRE’d address the friction between the FIRE’d and society related to success or not, freedom from culture or not. In today’s world, it may be unusual for a person to retire at all. Or a FIRE’d may feel that they are wasting their life because they have left producing as an ethos. Walden FIRE is a gift to be appreciated. To appreciate requires an inventory of the societal conditioning that hovers in the mind. And then letting go to enjoy life as it comes.
Citation: “Walden.” Henry David Thoreau. Written in 1854, the work is in the public domain. The edition used for this essay is ISBN 9798636117274