In October of 2008, about the same time as I started practicing Tibetan Buddhism in earnest after years of dabbling in it, blood tests showed that in a short span of a few months my kidney function had suddenly dropped to 50 percent of full capacity. What followed was a series of appointments with a group of kidney specialists, who were supposed to diagnose the cause and, therefore, the fatal effect of my kidney problems. During my first appointment, sitting in a modern waiting room – complete with its faux-Motel 6 furnishings, the perfumey odor of industrial-strength janitorial products, and magazines of the supermarket tabloid variety – I gazed around me at my fellow bovines being herded into the medical slaughterhouse. Those patrons who weren’t grossly overweight looked frail enough to break into twigs, which might not have been far from the truth, since severe osteoporosis is one symptom of advanced kidney disease. One tottering older man shuffled in with the aid of a walker and settled uncomfortably into a chair with upholstery in the pattern of a skin rash.
Finally, he bawled, “These goddamn chairs are built too goddamn low!” It was a voice crying in the wilderness filled with outrage, desperation, despair. Throughout the spring of 2009, the specialists at this center pricked, prodded, and poked me, up and down, looking for hard evidence explaining my kidney woes. I will detail how I escaped my own mortality and the clutches of the Industrial-Medical Complex in Chapter 6 of Back to Walden.
If only my kidneys would hold their own, I vowed, I can continue running, swimming, and hiking for…Well, that’s a question still to be answered. Making the best of my time, I arrived at a kind of acceptance, welcoming whatever fate awaits me, and reaching a state of happiness and peace I’ve never known. All the while, my life has taken on the atmosphere of late September in New England, when the turning summer mulches into fall, the quality of slanting light makes magic, and all the world seems to be holding its breath. By publishing this eBook, I don’t want to suggest that I have suddenly become some enlightened spiritual guru. I also understand that, at this point in time, what I offer you on these pages might not fit into your current agenda.


It is my intention that my journal will, in its own modest way, act like Walden did for countless readers, including poets, novelists, philosophers, naturalists, monastics, environmentalists, painters, bohemians, beats, hippies, and other time trekkers from every generation. Later, perhaps, in the fullness of time, my eBook might help you face the same end-of-life challenges that I face now.
My fondest hope is for this account to impart a few nuggets of intuitive wisdom to you and my other dear ones; to offer you all my loving camaraderie from this moment on. You must have JavaScript enabled in your browser to utilize the functionality of this website.
So I politely cancelled all my remaining appointments, swore never to report to that waiting room again, and took matters into my own hands. Unlikely as it seems, during the months following my fatal diagnosis, I reached my own separate peace. The heart and soul of Back to Walden is Thoreau’s lifestyle and this set of three awareness practices – True Thought, True Energy, and True Insight – which I believe can help anybody find peace of mind.
Your own infallible intuition – your “transparent eye-ball,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson called it – will tell you when that time is at hand.
I want this journal to help you and my other loved ones find joy now and for the remainder of your stay on earth. Just as Thoreau “never found a companion as companionable as loneliness,” I hope you’ll never find a companion as companionable as my companionship on these pages.
I began to realize how the knowledge of my failing kidneys is a lovesome thing, a fortunate thing, a thing of beauty and inspiration, a gift. I had to shift my eyes away from the elephantine ankles, painfully red and swollen, of the woman across the aisle. For several disturbing seconds, the poor man struggled to rise from his chair as though it were a wrestling opponent pulling an illegal hold.


I was informed that they wanted to drill into my bone marrow looking for either leukemia or bone marrow cancer, a Hobson’s choice, if there ever was one.
Knowing I didn’t have much time to waste, I fleshed out a streamlined method for practicing spiritual awareness by splicing together the essential threads of the Transcendentalism and Buddhism beloved by Thoreau.
In the following pages, I offer you these transcendent tools in hopes they can make your life more satisfying, more meaningful, more joyous. If these simple methods work for me, with a past so recently gone AWOL from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, they’re liable to work for anyone.
I am not even “An Illumined Soul,” as one gravestone in my hometown Amherst cemetery claims for the dearly departed.
I picture you turning your life into a noble but very personal calling, whose ultimate reward is tranquility. Aside from my kind, understanding, and supportive GP, the doctors simply didn’t know what to make of a vigorous, lifelong runner in ruddy good health who happens to have failing kidneys.
By adopting Thoreau’s lifestyle and boiling down many years of spiritual and philosophical reading to the three powerful awareness techniques summed up in chapter one, I discovered a speeded-up, pared-down method of spiritual trekking geared to those of us who haven’t any time to spare. But some day, as you dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, you might find you need something beyond what “over-civilization” (as Thoreau called society) offers. Like Thoreau, you might be seized by the impulse “to cast off the debilitating and dispiriting obligations of a respectable life.” Your mind might turn inward for something more. But, for the first time in a life of trying almost everything, I know I’m on the right track.




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