Robert M. Pirsig

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there."

Read more on Amazon


In his philosophical tour-de-force masquerading as a motorcycle trip, Robert M. Pirsig explores the biggest questions - purpose, meaning, quality, perspective, and even motorcycle maintenance. He makes a case for a slower, more intent life focused on quality, mastery, awareness, and the present moment.

"We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world."

Instead of being aware and present, we often obsess over some detail of life while ignoring the great landscape of awareness available to as, as well as the mysteries that enrich our lives.

"Mystery. You're always surrounded by them."

These mysteries hide in plain sight. It takes a slow, attentive, purposeful mind to notice them amid the problems that burden our everyday. One of the better ways to succeed is to put our thoughts on paper.

"Sometimes just the act of writing down the problems straightens out your head as to what they really are."

Writing forces us to come to grips with our thoughts, erroneous beliefs, petty stupidities, and fears. It offers a way to admit, in private, that we don't really know much and just how difficult it is to be confident in anything. That life is often depressingly strange and confusing.

"You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt."

But there is always hope, no matter how deep our problems. Peace of mind is within reach, although it requires dedication to maintain one's mind and soul with a diet of presence, attentiveness, and optimism.

"Peace of mind isn’t at all superficial, really,” I expound. “It’s the whole thing. That which produces it is good maintenance; that which disturbs it is poor maintenance. What we call workability of the machine is just an objectification of this peace of mind. The ultimate test’s always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself."

This is especially important in an age where speed is the only currency and we Zoom around like bumper cars.

"If you go too fast you get winded and when you get winded you get dizzy and that weakens your spirit and you think, I can't do it. So go slow for a while."

Slow down. Stop with your running and scheming and buying. You won't buy your way to happiness - there isn't a store that sells it.

"The only Zen you find on the of mountains is the Zen you bring up there."

Zen, or good maintenance, is a practice that grows from meditation, solitude, quality companionship, and a dedication do good, loving work.

"The Quality job he didn't think anyone was going to see is seen, and the person who sees it feels a little better because of it, and is likely to pass that feeling on to others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep on going."

More than anything else, Robert urges us to accept the past and let future do what it will. Anxiety doesn't pay off.

What about the future?' I say. Stupid thing to ask.
What about it?' he says.
I was going to ask what you planned to do about the future.'
I'm going to let it be.'
Did you enjoy this?
You might then enjoy The Slow Letter. It's a weekly email focusing on mental health through philosophy and literature. I also include all new essays and book summaries.