A Discussion of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This is the second post in which I write about a favorite old book. I loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (1974) years ago Funny, but what we knew in our youth was a surprising wisdom. Sure, we tend to be smarter as the years go on, but when it comes to knowing who we are and what is really important, we knew much in our 20s. That is not a good or bad thing, but too often we let life take us away from what we always wanted. Maybe it is time to remember. Reading this novel is a journey to reconnect to forgotten memories. Today, the message changes slightly to include a spiritual twist, one that was always there but seems more urgent now.

The narrator, traveling across the country on his motorcycle with his son, attempts to define “quality.” What he finds is that we all know what quality is. There is no need to define it. The search is important, but the answer is within.

Our quest to define “spirituality” is similar. We know what spirituality is for each of us. There is no need to define it. The search is important, but the answer is within. We try to make it more complicated and often don’t have enough faith in ourselves, but we know. This is the role of a mystic, as stated on my website’s Homepage:

“A mystic believes in spiritual truths beyond the intellect and seeks for unity through direct contemplation, with the divine.”

Personal, inner experience is our answer, not some external search. This motorcycle ride is merely symbolic. Pirsig’s character is us. He retraces the steps of his life to discover his identity. Maybe, like the character, we are not as crazy as we thought. We might benefit from a similar, if less complicated and extensive, pursuit.

As the narrator in this novel is discussing his search for the definition of the word “Quality,” he thinks, 

“Ancient Greece. Strange that for them, Quality should be everything while today it sounds odd to even say quality is real. What unseen changes could have taken place?”

Again, I’m reminded that this same statement could be said today regarding spirituality. How strange that in ancient cultures, spirituality was part of everything and related to the way of life. Too often today, we don’t acknowledge this aspect of our lives as real, significant and affecting our daily activities.

We also know exactly what spirituality means, without taking a physical search for the answer. We can go inside and listen to that knowing about our essence and our connection to something higher, even if we have temporarily misplaced that feeling. What are those “unseen changes” that happened? How far back in our lives must we go to uncover what we lost? And isn’t it time to reclaim that spirituality, to feel what it is like to be connected to a power greater than ourselves?

This literary motorcycle ride might help jog our memory and provide another way to remember who we are.

Pirsig opens us to the connection we may have been missing, to a belief that we may have ignored along our way. We know what spirituality is, even if we have forgotten our longing for that feeling of comfort. Remember that. Bask in the knowledge that we are not crazy at all, as the narrator in this novel discovers. We may simply be reconnecting to a lost past.

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