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Zen and the Art of Impatience



In 1936 Eugen Herrigel wrote a 20 page essay about his experience using Daishadokyo to learn archery (under the direction of a master), or more specific, kyūdō (Japanese bow). He later put those writings into a book called "Zen in the Art of Archery". It was published in Germany in 1948 and in the U.S. in 1953. He was interested in how the skills used for sports could be improved by using Zen (meditation), repetitive motion, and less concessions thought. Don't think; let the subconscious do the work. He felt progressive learning was to be practiced until the skill needed was effortless. The title of his book has been used, in variation, extensively. Most famously for the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" was written by Robert Maynard Pirsig in 1974. A great book about individuals who looked at life form opposite ends of the spectrum, with the main character attempting to find the middle. They rode for a time across the country, from Minnesota to Northern California. "Sutherland" would represent the romantic character of the story (Zen). He believes all will be alright in the modern world without his help. His is the new motorcycle that needs no care, no maintenance. And if it does, others with the technology will fix it. He lives for the moment. "The Narrator" is the character who rides the old bike, maintains it, knows when something isn't right with it, and fixes it (Mr. Maintenance).

Left Brain vs. Right Brain, the Artist vs. the Engineer.....

This is where I find myself in the world of my “old truck”. My truck hasn’t died; it will live longer than I will be remembered. But its built from parts across several generations. The term I hear most is Vintage Mod. It looks like it was just pulled out of the barn and put on the street, but really, the original steel is hiding the present day technology. I can feel the conflict in my heart. I love to meditate on the history of my 1950 truck and where its been, what its seen, and where it may end up…..but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna drive 25 miles per hour all the way to town! The first book had put Zen into the art of learning Archery, the second put Zen against the world of mechanized technology. I want to be the guy who enjoys both worlds. Zen can mean to “live in the now” and preventive maintenance could mean the opposite, to think ahead and plan for the best or worst outcome. It’s during the PM work on my truck that I lose my Zen. There is no romance and no apparent reward when it’s done. It’s work, nothing more. Sometimes I drive it with my senses tuned only to the bad sounds and not the good. There is no perfection, and there is no definable “quality” is there? So I ignore the romance of the “old truck” and get the work done.


… when its sitting perfectly still…..not making a sound….Zen finds its way back to my heart. Not touching a door, a handle or a steering wheel….I stare. My thoughts run deep into how I feel about something that could take me far away, and maybe even bring me back. I wonder if I will ever be able to feel that way when I’m actually driving the thing. Maybe not. Maybe it’s not supposed to be that way for me. I demand performance from my ride, not beauty. But man, is she a beauty. I could never say that too much. I wonder about the guy who first bought her. My truck was saved from the crusher, only 7 vehicles away. They had stopped crushing that weekend, and I bought two trucks that day. Two 1950 trucks, side by side. They were owned by the same guy, who put them directly in line, ready to be crushed. When I was driving on the highway, one truck on the trailer, I had Zen. When I drove the highway again with the other truck, I had Zen. Those two trucks made one good truck. A fast truck, a truck that needs lots of stuff other than Zen.

Herrigel and Pirsig are good guys. They both studied philosophy and took the time to write books I enjoy. I read what they are saying, but question if I understand it. I strive to understand myself, but not too much…..I don’t want to miss the things that matter. The stuff that has nothing to do with me. The stuff I keep around the place to remind me “cool” was happening long before I was even thought of. Stuff like my truck. She’s been here awhile, she is here right now, and will be here when I’m gone. I want to find the patience, to give my truck the care it needs and the love it deserves. That part, I do understand.

I have created an art to impatience. I need to change that, I want to slow down and let "it" in.

I’m working on it…..I’m driving my old truck and working on my Zen.



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If you get the opportunity, please read "Round The Bend" by Nevil Shute, (1951, William Morrow).  Long out of print, it would be a difficult search but well worth the effort.  It is a work of fiction in which one character (an aircraft mechanic) successfully ties together Zen and the concious thought of mechanics, and the story is told in such a fashion that it has been my mechanical inspiration since I first read it in High School.


I was fortunate to have found a first edition of it about twenty-five years ago and still read it over once every several years, and one of the main things it taught me was to appreciate the joy of PM (seriously) and the feeling of "oneness" it brings to your project.


BTW, "Round The Bend" is a somewhat archaic British expression for "being a bloody loon", which is how most mechanics would see the effort you put into your truck, but most wrenchers are wanting to "git-r-done" rather than bask in the residuals of a true Zen moment.


I think you'd enjoy the read as I enjoyed Pirsig's work.



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Lovely journey that. Thanks.

I would also add a read of Gary Zukav's "The Dancing Wu Li Masters". It is on its face about Quantum Physics, but the whole approach is more meta - attempting to answer the question of the role of the sub-conscious and a the more zen-like approach to doing things.


Until then - Flow like water - as Bruce Lee used to say.

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Randy: I read that "Round the Bend" helped inspired Pirsig's book. 


Mike: I've never heard of that book.


It might have been to new for me when I was in High School (79-82). lol...late 70's early 80's was my hippie movement.  


Randy /Mike: I'll pick up both books....thank you very much! :)


Tim aka 48Dodger

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BTW, "Round The Bend" is a somewhat archaic British expression for "being a bloody loon", which is how most mechanics would see the effort you put into your truck, but most wrenchers are wanting to "git-r-done" rather than bask in the residuals of a true Zen moment.


I think you'd enjoy the read as I enjoyed Pirsig's work.



Also a good read by Neville Shute is "On the Beach" that was made into a movie starring Greg Peck and Ava Gardiner. Very chilling as it describes (as best I can remeber)  post nuclear world war where Australia (my place) is the only continent left with people alive, but the nuclear storm is drifting their way. War started over land grab between Chinese and Russians. A "middle eastern" terrorist group decided they would take advantage of this by sending bombers with Russian insignia to bomb both London and Washington. Resulting in US & UK returning by nuclear fire to Russia .....and the rest is history.  Excellent read. Average movie. Chilling concept though thought of in 1957!!!!

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