Blazing Your Own Trail

Chapter 1, Part 4

Mind you, I’m no scholar of either Transcendentalism or Buddhism, nor am I trained as a guru of any kind. I’m qualified for nothing more than writing. But I am a good writer, and my best faculty is boiling down things to their basics. I’ve developed this ability during 40 years as a widely published journalist and poet, a career spent reducing the material in thousands and thousands of articles and poems to essence. Not by happenstance, one abiding precept of both Transcendentalism and Buddhism is boiling down existence to its essentials. As Thoreau put it, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” Rendering life to its bare bones.

Sadvilla #1

Blaze your own trail by taking the Henry David Thoroughfare (painting by Elizabeth Pols)

That is precisely what I will bring to the following pages: Boiling down the principles espoused by Thoreau’s Transcendentalism and Buddhism into these three simple, inspiring, enjoyable, easy-to-learn practices aimed at making your life much more fulfilling, more meaningful, more happy: True Thought, True Energy, True Insight.

During my three-score and more years on earth, I’ve led a life rich in adventure, escape, travel, pain, passion, folly, love, friendship, delusion, success, and failure. For most of that time, I looked for happiness everywhere; everywhere, that is, but where it actually resides. That would be somewhere deep within. Thanks to Walden, I’m learning to do that now. Walden acts as a particle accelerator, driving me to my logical conclusion. And that conclusion turns out to be this illusive mindset called happiness, more feathery than a meteorite burning through thin air, which I am tracking in these pages.

In Thoreau’s shadow, I’m making my own symbolic move to Walden so I can “front only the essential facts of life.” In his name, I am here to see if I can learn what the quick of life has to teach, and not, when I come to die, “discover that I have not lived.” Following in his footsteps, I am delving into the Eastern philosophies he culled for their ancient wisdom and truth.

Please be forewarned that Back to Walden is not a “how-to” book. It’s more of a “why-to” book. Why is the vital question demanded by anyone wondering what it is to be human. Why are we here? Why is life so difficult? Why is there so much evil? Why should we care?

I don’t have all the answers, but I certainly have all the questions, and most of them begin with why. As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Nor is my aim for you to imitate what I’ve done. Instead, I’m trusting you to employ these Transcendental tools for navigating your own unique path; the famed Road Not Taken, as Transcendentalist poet Robert Frost called it. The Road Not Taken, the road less traveled, is exactly what Thoreau himself would have advocated for your journey, mapped out by your own distinct talents, passions, aspirations, abilities, and intuitions.

“I desire that there be as many different persons in the world as possible,” as Thoreau put it, “but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.”

So blaze your own trail by taking the Henry David Thoroughfare. Then turn left at The Road Not Taken. From there, all roads lead to Walden.

Back to Walden, like the axe borrowed by Thoreau to build his house, simply lends you the tools to do it yourself in your own unique way. It imagines what we can all do to turn a humdrum life into our own personal Walden. And, in that endeavor, as Transcendentalist poet Walt Whitman observed, “your very flesh will become a great poem.”