February 24, 2021

Sustainable Practices & Lifestyles: What Transcendentalism Teaches Us About Living Harmoniously

Paul Patterson

Although the ideology is nearly 200 years old, transcendentalism has much to teach us about sustainable practices and lifestyles. From minimalist living to cutting back on waste, this old ideology brings us closer to the environment.

Sustainable Practices & Lifestyles: What Transcendentalism Teaches Us About Living Harmoniously

Transcendental ideals also reveal the history behind sustainable initiatives of today. It does so by giving us a glimpse into the dark and polluted times that brought about such a movement.

This is transcendentalism and how it connects to modern ideas of sustainable practices and green living.

Who Were the Transcendentalists?

A form of philosophical idealism, the transcendental ideology focuses on going beyond the limits of the human experience. By transcending the boundaries of spirituality, knowledge, and human nature, people can experience both inner and outer peace.

As this ideology emerged in the 19th century, religion was still a prominent institution in American society. For this reason, transcendentalists relied on the spirituality of religion to get their ideas across while avoiding religious dogmatism.

By explaining that deities — in their case, God — existed in everything and everyone, they aimed to deepen the spiritual connection between humans and nature.

Furthermore, this equation of spiritual belief to the physical world emphasized sustainable practices, thinking for oneself, and living in the here and now. As a result, transcendentalists celebrated their individuality and practiced self-reliance.

The ideology also took progressive stances on many issues. Through their work, writers like Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller advocated for women’s rights, abolition, and education reform. They also criticized the government, organized religion, and social institutions, and in many ways, their influence is still recognizable today.

Transcendentalism & Sustainable Practices

The transcendentalists believed that nature is our greatest teacher, so it’s no doubt that their ideology promotes sustainability. In fact, many modern scholars view Henry David Thoreau as one of the earliest advocates for sustainable practices and lifestyles.

In his book, Walden, Thoreau describes his two-year escape from society to live near Walden Pond. To many, he is promoting a withdrawal from society, but that’s not the case.

In reality, Thoreau revealed the serenity that comes by living simply and deliberately. He also showed that humans can live harmoniously with nature instead of devastating the environment to harvest natural resources. This concept inspired Thoreau and continues to drive green lifestyles today.

Sustainable Practices & Lifestyles: What Transcendentalism Teaches Us About Living Harmoniously

Additionally, the rise of transcendentalism happened in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. Although developments like burning coal and urbanizaton were still new, it was clear that society would suffer for it. Black smoke clouded the skies, sludge tainted the water, and people squeezed together in tight, unclean housing.

Out of these ashes, came several sustainable and humanitarian initiatives. The search for clean energy, land conservation —a term that was coined in 1890 — and sustainable housing practices would soon take center stage.

Transcendentalists also focused on several other sustainable practices that resemble those we have today. For instance, minimizing waste and repurposing old materials sounds a lot like “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Transcendentalism & Society

Perhaps one of the most important ideas to come out of this ideology, though, has more to do with culture than the environment. Focusing on individuality and self-empowerment allows people to transcend cultural norms and stereotypes.

Although much of society still struggles with even accepting differences, celebrations of individuality will make for rich and diverse communities.

Sustainable Practices in Everyday Life

The transcendentalists were pioneers of minimalism, sustainable living, and social reform. Their actions have had a ripple effect across history and influenced contemporary ideas about what it means to live sustainably.

From sustainable housing to challenging stereotypes, we have a lot to learn from transcendentalism. By putting its teachings into practice, we can cultivate a more sustainable, productive, and socially accepting society.

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