The inescapable breakdowns: mechanical vs. mental

I know the blogs on this website share a lot of views/opinions/advices/clichés on travel and motorcycles. But this time, I am going to do something different. I am not going to write about motorcycles. I didn’t really get off to a great start did I? The heading and picture itself speaks of motorcycles and ‘mechanical’ breakdowns. Well, maybe I will mention the two-wheeled lovable monsters now and then. After all, we love them don’t we and the two of us do have one thing in common that binds us together even more – the certainty of breakdowns.

So, going a bit off track… read any good books lately? Did you ever get around to reading ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’by Robert Pirsig? Let’s explore this one, shall we?

The study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself. Working on a motorcycle, working well, caring, is to become part of a process, to achieve an inner peace of mind. The motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon.”–  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Interesting isn’t it? But before we go any further, I want to tell you a bit about the author. Are you like me who wants to know something more ‘thought-provoking’ about the authors than what their book really narrates about them? Say, maybe delve a bit deeper into their minds and then when you are reading their book, somewhere have that ‘eureka’ moment when you find bits and pieces of them in their story. You know where they are coming from? If you are, then you are going to enjoy this one!

In Robert Pirsig’s book, there will be many ‘Eureka’ moments because you get to hold a piece of his mind. I love this man and his philosophical take on rationalism vs romanticism. I am not going to elucidate this one for you just yet.

The author of “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”,Mr. Robert Pirsig, passed away in 2017 at the age of 88. Robert found the inspiration for this book when he took a road trip with his eldest son Chris and friend John Sutherland in 1968. So, this autobiography (as Robert described it) is an adventurous story of the author’s motorcycle journey across the country however it incorporates Pirsig’s philosophical take on life – a manifesto through bike maintenance.

In one of his interviews with National Public Radio, Mr. Robert mentioned that it took him about 4 years to write this book. In the span of the first two years Robert was working for a firm. Once back from work, he would sleep at 6 pm every day and used 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. to write this book post which he would leave for his job again. He would catch up on his sleep during lunch break at work! Though he was called the ‘less-perky’ one, it didn’t matter as it paid off!

‘The book quickly became a best-seller. Pirsig said its protagonist “set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road.”’– The Hindu

As a personality, Robert was the intelligent one (or as our society likes to call them, the different one),with a high IQ and having completed high school at the age of 15. He pursued a degree in Philosophy and even did a job as a technical writer and professor of English.

In 1960’s however, he was hospitalized for mental illness. He suffered from what is commonly known in the psychology world as schizophrenia or split personality. Robert was given electroshocks and then released from the hospital when one of these split personalities faded away and another one remained. As doctors would call it, the ‘sane’ or ‘real’ one remained.

I am going to take just a minute here to ask you, is being insane or different so wrong? Aren’t we all supposed to be different? And how do you decide which one is ‘real’? Don’t we all carry our shadows around? I am not trying to compare shadows with an illness. But, if Mr. Robert Pirsig wasn’t different, would he have created “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.”? I am not looking for answers here but do give this a thought and we could go on a mental excursion another day if we happen to take the same bus to work!

Anyway, let’s talk about the book for a bit and a snippet of all that you will take away from the book, if you do end up reading it!

In the beginning of his book, Robert writes, “If you want to set out for the most amazing bike journey, you have learn the art of motorcycle maintenance.”It makes you seem he is going to talk about how to maintain your bikes, or maybe different kind of mechanical breakdowns and how to tackle them – No. He doesn’t talk about these subjects at all. But he does talk about breakdowns – the mental breakdowns – in his own ‘different’ way.

One of the most important lesson that book teaches you is to enjoy the common little things that life has for you. There is as much Buddha in cogs of bike, as there is at the top of the mountain.” – Priyank Verma, Medium

The most profound message that resonates with me – What you take with(in) you to the mountains, you will find it there. You can’t escape from yourself no matter where you go.

The other lessons you might encounter while reading the book:

It’s about the journey, not the destination

The right attitude – it’s not always about solutions to the problem

Living life in the moment vs. rationalism

The amalgamation of rationalism and romanticism – the middle ground

Don’t try to reach for the impossible

It’s all about the perspective –  even the lessons you grab from this book, will be through your lens and your perspective and when you have them defined, I would love to read them!

Robert also wrote about his mental illness and his ‘stint’ with the mental hospital and how that disturbed his philosophy PhD at the University of Chicago. He even talks about his ‘schizophrenic’ self that starts to appear during this trip and how that affects him and his son and their relationship. Yes, there is a reason this courageous author regarded this book as an ‘autobiography’.

Read this book only if you want to just read a book. Don’t try to read it like you are about to climb Mount Everest and expecting that once you reach the peak, you will have so many revelations. Don’t expect this book to be a life altering experience. No, this book won’t change you if you are expecting a change. Read it, just immerse yourself in the activity of reading and thoughts that get magnified as you leaf through the pages. Maybe, once you have read it, you will find meaning in these few lines above and then we could probably bond or debate on the same.

Repair yourself. Repair the bike. But while you do so, please know that you are breathing, you are patient and you are solving the ‘right’ problem with a ‘right’ attitude. A message I am still working on. Amen to that! Cheers to a man who didn’t let his split personality get in the way and neither did he tuck it away as if the other didn’t exist. He talked about it because he accepted its significance on his life and relationships. He was different, indeed and I love him for that.