Stand and Deliver!

Chapter 6, Part 3

In the 20 years after I left the monastery, all through the 1990s and well beyond the turn of the 21stcentury, I wandered through the desert of mid-life without finding what I thought I was looking for.

I needed some sort of locution in the redwood forest

I spirited what I could from spiritual readings. Helped myself to self-help books. Psyched myself out in psycho-therapy. Read and re-read Walden without knowing quite what to do with it. Dabbled in Buddhism by practicing a diluted form I dubbed “Buddhist Lite.” Jumped from hither to yon. In all, I immersed myself in nothing, and nothing immersed itself in me.

The words I lived by were contained in the tongue-in-cheek slogan I posted over my computer: “Think Shallow.”

What I needed was some signpost to point me toward a more focused meaning than the one I was cherry-picking from many different sources. Like Brother Bob, I required some kind of locution in a redwood forest to waylay me and shout, “Stand and deliver!”

In fact, just that kind of locution was about to happen, not once, but several times between 2008 and 2010. And all because of meditation.

Remember my bout with kidney disease, a story I began in chapter 3? Here’s the ending I promised you then. Let’s return to that critical moment in October of 2008, when I discovered that my kidneys were quickly losing their ability to filter my blood. Blood tests showed I had suddenly lost 50 percent of my kidney function. My kidneys were apparently failing, and failing fast!

The effect of this news was electrifying. It administered Transcendental shock treatment, jolting me into a newfound sense of urgency about my future. In the coming days I began to perceive that the TM meditation I had been practicing rather mindlessly for 23 years was lacking any real meaning to back it up. Instead, I reasoned, meditation should be part and parcel of a focused method for questing after truth, like Walden, rather than just the bemused sort of groping that had served as my spiritual life. Meditation should function as the search engine for finding my own true purpose in life.

That’s when I abandoned the limited brand of TM meditation I’d been doing since 1985 and began training myself with various Buddhist meditation techniques. These meditations condition the mind in a variety of ways, instilling mindfulness, concentration, insight, compassion, wisdom, ethics, truth, and much more.

Now here’s the mind-blowing part. Buddhist meditations also brought out my inner voice, my native intuition. And, through this intuition, my lifelong quest for happiness and peace of mind finally came together over the following months through a series of revelations, rising spontaneously from my meditations like a disembodied voice in a redwood forest.

Mind you, there was nothing miraculous about these small miracles. Each revelation was simply the product of my hidden genius. Meditation, done with real mindfulness, plumbs human nature to locate our buried intuition.

My first of these locutions happened in the fall of 2009, during a session of Buddhist breath-counting, when my 20-year-old case of philosophical wanderlust was suddenly resolved in a flash of instant enlightenment. Why not, I figured in that moment of truth, instill a Western soul into Eastern Buddhism? This thought, in fact, came rocketing out of the thoughtless reaches of my meditation. Why not recombine the DNA of Buddhism and Transcendentalism? Why not practice Buddhist meditation in the context of the Transcendental philosophy practiced by Thoreau at Walden Pond?

It was the best of both worlds. East meets West. Buddha, my jolly good fellow, shake hands with Henry David Thoreau, the rugged individualist!

I noticed the difference almost at once, as if my viewpoint had just switched from one dimension to 3-D. Suddenly, my life was infused with meaning. With purpose and direction. Suddenly, I began to practice what Buddhists call “Right Livelihood.” I had suddenly found my reason to be after drifting for nearly six decades.  

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum for Right Livelihood. I began to suffer exhausting anemia. For the next six months, my energy, my very life, my spirit, were all sucked away. Barely functioning became increasingly hard. All the while, through an act of sheer willpower, I somehow continued my Buddhist meditations, Transcendentalist readings, and a semblance of my avid daily exercise routine, a 50-year-old habit of running, swimming, biking, hiking, basketball, and weight training.

Let’s face it, though, by the spring of 2009 I was barely dragging my ass through my daily workouts, and by six o’clock each evening I would fall into bed feeling thoroughly bone-chilled, drained, mightily exhausted.

Meanwhile, a team of doctors, performing many kinds of tests, couldn’t diagnose what was actually causing either my kidney dysfunction or my anemia. The medics did, however, rule out the kidney dysfunction as the cause of the fatigue, because I hadn’t reached the end stage, or dialysis phase, of kidney disease, when anemia is a major problem.

Apparently, my conditions were mutually exclusive, and the specialists began looking for something even more fatal than kidney disease. In other words, the experts were combining contradictory terms into one death sentence. The coroner’s report would rule “death by oxymoron.”

My reaction? I decided I was simply falling apart at the seams and prepared myself for the worst.

Finally, after I went through months of exams and countless needle pricks, specialists dismissed everything but two possible causes for my severe fatigue: bone marrow cancer or leukemia. Should I choose “The Lady or the Tiger?”

They wanted to drill into my bone to determine which one was about to kill me. That knowledge, face it, would be a pyrrhic victory at best. At that juncture, in May of 2009, I had every reason to believe my life was guttering out faster than a candle flame in a typhoon. In other words, I had reached the same point of desperation as Brother Bob did, the night before his last-ditch cancer surgery, when his God tricked him into becoming a monk.

Then, in June of 2009 while meditating once again, I experienced another moment of revelation, another kind of locution in a redwood forest. Some “inner voice,” which I must conclude was my own intuition, told me for no apparent reason to take massive doses of Vitamin B-12. Since I was already taking more than the daily recommended allowance of B-12, my intuition seemed irrational. Maybe, like many kidney patients suffering from uncontrolled anemia, I was losing it both physically and mentally.

But, like Brother Bob, I did as I was told, recalling his own words: “When a voice comes out of nowhere and tells you what to do, you’d be a damned fool not to listen!”

Nietzsche staring into the abyss

And so I did. Within days, these mega-doses began to ease my symptoms of anemia. By the fall of 2009, I was feeling quite up to snuff again. Maybe I was intuitively communicating with the Akashic Field, the font of all knowledge, for my cure.

Like Brother Bob and his cancer, I had just discovered that even a clay pigeon like me can dodge the eternal bullet fired by that Big Trap Shooter in the sky.

But there was one more consequence of my nearly fatal bout with anemia. As Friedrich Nietzsche observed so succinctly, “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.” And here’s what the abyss told me. The outcome of my life-altering, life-threatening experience was a sudden desire – really an overwhelming passion! – to do something meaningful, humanitarian, something lasting with whatever time I might have left of my life.

But what can I do, I asked myself? In search of a purposeful answer, I meditated for the next few months hoping my Transcendental intuition could come up with a plan once again. Interestingly enough, the answer came on New Year’s Day of 2010, during yet one more meditation. That’s when another flashpoint of inspiration, much like my B-12 revelation, came to me. Another moment of enlightenment rose from the becalmed sea of my meditation practice.

Why not write a book for my dearest friends, loved ones, and other searchers, wherever they might be, giving them the same simple tools I’d been using to reach my own state of contentment? Why not post my own website, which would make my eBook free and accessible for anyone anywhere who needed it?

My reasoning was simple. Perhaps I can save a few people longing for meaning and contentment from years of muddling around, like it took me.

That was the precise instant when Back to Walden became a twinkle in my eye. Back to Walden, I hoped, could help treat the outbreak of metaphysical deafness that plagues this country and beyond. I was shifting into Walden mode.

That precise instant is also when I understood the moral of my own life story. I suddenly realized the truth behind a long search that had taken the last 25 years to play itself out! To see that moral, read the next section.