Finding Zen; Losing Mind

I have just finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It has been on my Should Read List When I Am Ready List for a decade, but I just never got around to it. V. picked me up a copy for our two year anniversary of being together, so I decided that it was time. Zen is the type of book that drains you; you know the type that really takes you apart while reading it and makes you ask what you believe, how close to insanity are you, and is Balance a concept worth seeking.

The basic story concerns a man and his son travelling across America on a motorcycle trip. The man speaks through the metaphor of a Chatauqua, or a meeting for culture and truth, and reveals that he suffered a mental breakdown while trying to find the meaning of Quality through various philosophical and rhetorical studies. He suffered through electric shock treatment, and his personality was split so that he no longer remembers his original personality: he refers to it as Phaedrus.

The book was a best-seller, but like so many philosophical novels that become cultural landmarks this must be one that many own, but few read. I hold three university degrees and am a strong reader, but the sheer level of the mountain Pirsig asks his reader to climb is steep. I just cannot imagine that many can blindly follow the man up into the mountains. Those who do may not return; if they do, then they will be different than they were upon leaving. 

So the question then becomes what do I believe in? As I thought about this over the past 24 hours, my responses have been varied. It is much easier to reduce one’s beliefs to a series of simplistic thoughts about what is good and what is bad, than it is to found beliefs on essential tenets. I also find it difficult not to weight my beliefs on the side of negativity, but for the purpose of working through my thoughts I have chosen seven beliefs to put forward; a sort of Chandler’s Creed, if you will:

  1. I believe in the darkness and in light.
  2. I believe that Hope is the most powerful idea.
  3. I believe that personal learning is essential to enlightenment.
  4. I believe that education does not always equal learning.
  5. I believe that if growth is to happen, then balance is temporary.
  6. I believe that the majority remains satisfied with ignorance.
  7. I believe that tomorrow may lead me to believe in opposing ideas.

What any of this means will undoubtedly be shrouded in mysterious fog. The process of learning, reading, developing and adapting demands a certain allowance for uncertainty. Maybe as I grow older I have come to accept that I will never grasp the Truth, but I may run my fingers along the periphery of its most distant branches. I learned nothing about motorcycle maintenance, by the way.

One movie that is fascinating me is the documentary on MARWENCOL, a world created through a brain injury that left Mark Hogancamp with only one creative survival technique left: retreat into his imagination. I await its DVD release with great anticipation.


One response to “Finding Zen; Losing Mind

  1. I found your site looking for info on an SWC and found this page. I got more from your creed than I did “Art of Motorcycle…”, which I did not much like (my expectations may have been the warped by the hype). But, your creed is very insightful. A great surprise on a Sunday morning.

    #6 you might develop further; it’s not that simple, and I’d remove or modify the last – its doubt weakens the whole. Truths are enduring, but may conflict.

    Powerful insights – well done.

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