Your Very Own Realometer

Chapter 6, Part 4

The moral behind my own life of unquiet desperation is that I can rise above life’s trials and trepidations through the simple act of meditating to unlock my own intuition. I mean, how Transcendental is that?

Cover of The Natural by Bernard Malamud

We have two lives

In his small classic, The Natural, author Bernard Malamud found the sweet spot in his story by the way humans struggle and evolve. He summed it up this way: “We have two lives, the life we learn with, and the life we live with after that.”

Having finally learned a little bit about my life after decades of struggle, I’m finally beginning to celebrate the life I live with after that. How? By being born again with the natural power of my own intuition.

Apparently, I was also born again physically. In October of 2010, my kindly GP at the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Warren Morgan, talked me into blood tests for the first time in more than 18 months. They showed that my kidney function, which had dropped off a nephrological cliff two years before, was holding steadier than a yaw Yankee clipper catching a fair wind to Java.

Having absolutely no scientific evidence to support me, I’m perfectly willing to credit this small marvel to my meditation, the intuition it inspires, and going Back to Walden. I mean, who’s going to argue with me?

Wherever he is now, the late great Brother Bob must be chuckling low in his throat, stroking his goatee, and winking at me. He knows damn well that his own God bamboozled me into going Back to Walden in much the same way that He tricked Brother Bob into becoming a monk and spending his last thirty-some-odd years in a Trappist monastery. All’s fair in love, war, and religion.

Mark Twain

Common sense is uncommonly uncommon

My own interpretation might be a tad different than Brother Bob’s. Here’s mine: Meditation is the tool for awakening the brilliance within, vocalizing your internal voice, resurrecting your buried you. Meditation is the gateway to intuition. It is also the desire path to your own distinct genius, to the life you live after the life you learn with.

Meditation brings out your own common sense, which, as Mark Twain pointed out, is uncommonly uncommon. Alfred North Whitehead put it this way: “Common sense is genius in homespun.” And meditation is the home-spinner. 

That said, I’m not here to tell you how to meditate. I’ve found that some of the most powerful meditative practices are those we make up to meet our personal needs.

Don’t forget. Walden is a do-it-yourself philosophy aimed at doing it to yourself in your own homespun way.

With that hope in mind, I’ll briefly outline five examples – five easy pieces, as it were – of my own favorite meditations of diverse kinds, which you’re welcome to adopt, adapt, or trash at will. These meditations span the range of meditation types, variously aimed at concentration, insight, mindfulness, truth, wisdom, compassion, and much more.


  • Breath-counting: My staple meditation is a standard one among Buddhists. Breath-counting. You simply focus on the physical sensations of your breath where it is inhaled and exhaled at the base of the nostrils. Count each breath, going from one to 10, and then start again. As with every meditation, when stray thoughts pop up, quietly and gently let them go and resume your focus. When you lose count, just go back to number one. Do that for as long as you like, typically from 20 minutes to an hour. You can either sit in a chair, cross your legs in a lotus or semi-lotus position, or use a meditation bench, it’s your call.


Candle Flame

I am the candle flame

  • Candle Meditation: This is a short meditation I made up to end my meditations with a Big Bang, using the projection technique Buddhists employ in many of their meditations, imagining themselves as the Buddha, the Clear Light of intuition, or many other things. I spend several minutes staring into a candle flame, concentrating on nothing but the wick’s bright gaseous burn. Then I shut my eyes. Now I focus on the disembodied image of the candle, which is superimposed on the inside of my eyelids. I say to myself, “Clear Light, rise up through me and consume me with your truth. Clear Light, rise up through me and consume me with your wisdom. Clear Light, rise up through me and consume me with your compassion. I am Clear Light. I am the candle flame. I am the Buddha. As I go about my day, let me see my life through the eyes of the Buddha.” Then I blow out the candle.


  • Life as a Midway: I made up this meditation to drive home the Buddhist concept of life as illusion. I picture a carnival midway, complete with sideshows, concession stands, game booths, amusement park rides, a tunnel of love, a funhouse. I think about each. Sideshows con us into seeing something freakish or titillating or magic in exchange for our money. Just like life. Concession stands sell us fluff, like cotton candy, which evaporates into nothing at first bite. Just like life. The rides thrill us with the illusion of danger. Or, then again, merely make us queasy. Just like life. We float through the tunnel of love for its promise of darkness and romance, but it leaves us feeling only frustrated and sexually unfulfilled. Just like life. In the funhouse, the room of mirrors makes us feel alternately fat, emaciated, twisted, and disembodied. Just like life. Undulating floorboards throw us off-balance. Just like life. Blasts of air mess our hair and levitate skirts. Flashing lights throw grotesque shadows on everything. Ghouls and skeletons and witches and demons leap at us from dark nooks and materialize in glass cases. Whistles and moans and screams and cackles churn the air. It’s a sort of Dante’s Inferno. And yet it’s all artifice. It’s all illusory and untrue. It’s all a fantasy world to regard with skepticism and disbelief. Just like life.


  • Sending and Taking: This is my own personal meditation based on the Buddhist concept of tonglen, or sending and taking, in which one mentally “breathes in” the pain of others and replaces it with compassion. I start by focusing on each breath. As I inhale, I imagine myself sucking all the dark, bad karma out of the air. As I exhale, I imagine myself as a kind of catalytic converter, changing bad karma and fouled air into good karma and clean air. After several minutes, I concentrate on each of my friends and loved ones, inhaling their pain and bad karma, then exhaling good karma and compassion. After I finish doing tonglen with each friend, I extend the process to all the suffering souls in the whole world, sucking in their pain, sending them all my compassion.


  • I Am Infinite: This is a kind of Buddhist insight meditation that I adapted to my own purposes. I sit at a window overlooking my woodsy back yard and Harkness Pond beyond. I start by speculating about my place in nature. I think about how the chemicals in my body, after I die, will return to the soil, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. They will become part of the plants. They will become part of the animals that eat the plants. They will be assimilated by humans who eat the plants and animals. Some of my chemicals will leach into streams and ponds. From there, they will run into the sea and evaporate into the air. After my death, I will be part of all living things. I will circulate throughout the ocean currents. I will circulate throughout the jet streams. I will become chemical reactions in the infinite energy exchange that powers the universe. I will be part of everything, part of everywhere, part of every infinity, now and forever, amen.


To repeat myself, your responsibility as a practitioner of Walden is to create your own personal quest. That means making up your own meditations or adapting them to your own life.

Abbey Window

The ultimate purpose of your life is to create your own ultimate purpose

As you have probably realized by now, what I conceive of as Walden is merely a template for you to create your own personal Walden, your own special philosophy of life. The very concept is based on people marching to different drummers, rugged individualists united by a passion for doing their own thing in their own way.

My Walden will be vastly different from your Walden. Your True Thought will be a far cry from my True Thought. Your True Energy will be a different animal than my True Energy. Your True Insight will be a damn sight different from my True Insight. That’s because we each have our own singular truth.

In that noble pursuit, it’s worth quoting the master, writing about the heroic and relentless pursuit of purpose: “Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance…till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality.”

My lovely reader, your own “Realometer” – which you can use to locate that hard, fast, and genuine place called truth, to wedge through the muck of public opinion, to go a-fishing in the stream of time – is meditation. Remember: The ultimate purpose of your life is to create your own ultimate purpose! Which, not by coincidence, is the perfect lead-in to the seventh and last chapter of Back to Walden: Turning Life into Your Own Personal Quest.