Your Very Own Meditator (Nov, 1970)
Escape from the pressures of modern life … Relax in contemplation after building
Your Very Own Meditator
By KEN ISAACS – PS Design Consultant
“I vant to be alone.” When Greta Garbo made her often-quoted remark, years ago, it may have had a deeper meaning than escape from pursuing newsmen. Everybody occasionally wants to be alone. We all need privacy to renew ourselves for the fast pace of modern living. As old as mankind, this inner need is today more urgent than ever before.
Mohandas Gandhi was perhaps this century’s outstanding exponent of alonenessâ€”of personal meditation. Gandhi’s inspiration came in part from our own Henry David Thoreau, who fled to the natural solitude of Walden Pond. And Thoreau was a real soul brother of our western man of the mountains, naturalist John Muir.
But perhaps the best expression of this inner needâ€”the one that moved me to design the Popular Science Meditatorâ€”comes from the cultural historian and critic, Lewis Mumford. In his book, The Conduct of Life, Mumford speculates that, ideally, each of us has two lives: our public life of daily activityâ€”earning a living, raising a familyâ€”plus a private life created within our thoughts as we examine and evaluate our actions.
It is Mumford’s contention that if each of us fully realized that every minute of our lives that “escapes reflection” is gone forever, we’d make provision for that “second life”â€”provision that would encourage us to slow down and follow up our day-today pursuits with regular meditation.
Mumford actually anticipated my Meditator design when he called for a form that would give this second life shape: a specific time and place for contemplative withdrawalâ€”preferably even a special structure devoted to the purpose. Inspired by this idea, I designed my Meditator.
This project was conceived to make it easier for all of us to satisfy our need for occasional moments of private contemplation. Enter the Meditator and surround yourself with the graphics which cover its walls, and something begins to happen to you almost at once.
It’s difficult to predict, but you may find the sensation akin to that mystical communion with nature that you experience when alone in a forestâ€”or the sense of peace you feel in an empty cathedral. Or you may develop sudden insights as you study the picture-fragments of your worldâ€”and be swept by the conviction that you’re “getting it all together” at last.
Far back into history. For the design of the Meditator, I’ve gone to the ancient Greeks and borrowed one of the polyhedrons they first visualizedâ€” the 12-sided dodecahedron, each face of which is a perfect pentagon. The Pythagoreans called it the “atomic building block of the Universe.”
Although the structure is simple to build, the secret of its effectiveness lies in the preparation of those graphics inside. You create them from pictures cut from popular magazines-pictures of any subjects you wish, but pictures to which you have a strong response. The random assemblage of such pictures is a technique I developed some years ago and which Look magazine christened “pholage”â€”a word coined from “photo” and “collage” (an art work pasted up from scraps).
The point of a pholage is to confront the viewer with immediate access to a far greater variety of visual “information” than he could obtain by leafing through a magazine, page by page. Many experiments have proven my theory that such a confrontation expands the consciousness. The viewer begins to see unique relationships between seemingly isolated incidents.
The experience can be eye-opening; no two people respond the same way to an identical pholageâ€”and no two people will assemble duplicate collages from identical materials.
The fun, then, in making your personal Meditator, is double: First you create 11 pholages (only the access panel is left bare), then discover the unexpected cross-referencing when you wrap yourself in the assembled panels. Beyond that, you’ll be able to compare responses with your friends. And when you feel you’ve exhausted the potential of a given assembly, it’s easy to paste new pictures over the old.
I think you’ll be surprised by the new perspectives you’ll get toward the world about you, and your own part in it. I’ll soon be taking the Meditator with me (knocked down, it fits into a station wagon or sedan) on a college lecture tour as part of my demonstration of design technique. Teachers who have had an advance look at the – Meditator feel thatâ€”with changeable panelsâ€”it could be utilized in schools as a teaching environment. [Editor's note: College groups interested in booking Isaacs to speak should write him in care of Popular Science. ] A breeze to build. When you go to the lumber yard for the 3/8″ plywood, see if they’ll saw the 4-by-8 panels in half for you. Four-foot squares are easier to handle.
After you’ve cut all the pentagons as illustrated, clamp them into two groups of six and lay out the 1/4″ holes along the edges. To bore these holes accurately, it’s best to use an accessory stand with your portable drill. The distance from the edge should match the holes in the corner angles you buy. Spread one of the angles to an accurate 117 degrees, checking with a protractor, then use it as a template for the other 89.
Give all wood parts a coat of enamel undercoat. When this is dry and smoothed with fine sandpaper, apply a good semigloss enamel finish to the outside faces and all edges. For a decorative effect, paint adjacent panels contrasting colors and paint the feet to match or contrast.
Applying the pholage. Once you’ve gathered your magazine photos, you may want to experiment with one of the spray adhesives now on the marketâ€”although they’re expensive. My own method is simple, and results in a nice flat adhesion to the undercoated plywood.
Mix nonstaining cellulose wallpaper paste slightly heavier than recommended. Put clean water in a flat pan and pull each picture through it before applying paste liberally to the back with a soft brush and a light touch. Use the same brush to put paste on the panel where the picture will be located. The panel should be leaning against the wall in a nearly vertical position when you take the picture by the two top corners and place it.
Occasionally ink will run and a clipping must be discarded, but if you keep that light touch I mentioned, this won’t be frequent. You’ll find that the two paste-coated surfaces attract each other so a picture almost places itself. Avoid major wrinkles, but don’t try to shift clippings much once they adhere.
You may be dismayed at the puckered look of just-applied pictures, but they’ll flatten overnight. The purpose of the wetting is to allow the paper to shrink to the panel. Experiment on a scrap of plywood to gain confidence and proficiency before tackling the big pentagons.
Assemble with the hardware (all wingnuts go outside) and you’re ready to crawl in for meditation. You’ll quickly understand what Garbo meant and why Mumford championed the second life of contemplation.