Yesterday I lost a personal hero. Robert M Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila died at 88.
Sadly, there aren’t many heroes left.
Like many other fans of Pirsig, Kerouack, Kesey, Sartre, et al, I discovered him when I was in my 20’s and found a crystalline view of the world – the way I’d always seen it – if I’d only had the words to express it so eloquently.
Want to know how much it’s meant to me over the years? This is my one and only tattoo, now 20-years-old, fading and splotchy like the rest of me.
When it was fresh and new, you could better make out that I’d opted for an adjustable wrench over a fixed spanner, and that I’d included tendrils to add dynamism to the original artwork. It also had a lovely glint of chrome, which didn’t last, of course.
But there it is, forever inked…
Zen – A Book That Changed My Life
Zen is, to me at least, a seminal work. And the book has come and gone from my life many times. I still have one precious copy, given to me by Rex Carleton, a dear friend and mentor, before I left Seattle in 1997. In it, Rex scrawled the title of this little epitaph, “From heart to hands and back again”.
I think I’d like to be cremated with that particular book in the pine box, when the time comes (FYI).
The story goes that Pirsig was out riding motorcycles with a friend. Said friend was talking about how he was writing a book called Zen and the Art of Archery but Pirsig noticed that his bike was not well maintained and burning oil or some other such mechanical sin. Pirsig joked that his friend needed to write a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – and a legend was born.
The inspiration stayed with him and what he intended as a paper grew into a book over a period of four years.
A book, by the way, that is about neither Zen nor motorcycle maintenance.
Instead, it’s a book about quality. Quality of experience, quality of insight, quality of intention. Fundamentally, it’s a book about how anything you do in life can be art if you approach it the right way. And that way is the way of no-way.
That is to say, the monk meditating atop a mountain in some far-flung monastery is no more in possession of the potential for enlightenment than you are while making toast. You can practice Zen and the art of whatever, if you’ll just be here now.
When Walking, Just Walk. When Sitting, Just Sit. Above All, Don’t Wobble
If Robert Pirsig can find Zen while adjusting the tappets on his an air-cooled freedom machine, where might you?
To “be here now” means to focus, with intention, on this moment. Not the future, not the past, now. It may seem that multi-tasking, power lunches and catching up on the news while on the treadmill at the gym are requirements in order to achieve the level of success you crave.
What if, instead, you recognized your own perfection in this exact moment and set aside your cravings for something that is other than right here, right now?
You might jus find Zen and the Art of Work. Or Zen and the Art of You.
Thank you Robert Maynard Pirsig, for sharing your tortured soul with us.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a motorcycle.
Or maybe I’ll just make toast.