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7 Life Lessons Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"
1. "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."
Above all, ZAMM teaches you that life is about the journey, not the destination. This sounds quite trite when you boil the book down to this, but it's the way in which Pirsig explains his outlook that makes the message of ZAMM unique.
We're often taught that doubt is a bad thing, something to be feared and avoided at all costs. In reality, doubt, like all "bad" things in life, can actually be a good thing if you use it as a learning lesson. Doubt teaches us to be strong and resilient. Without doubt, we have no way to prove our faith and dedication to something. If you start to doubt something important to you and manage to make it out of that dark period with your faith intact, then whatever it is you believe in suddenly means so much more than it did before.
2. "Is it hard?" "Not if you have the right attitudes. It's having the right attitudes that's hard."
Oftentimes, the solutions to problems in life can be reached through a change of mindset. For Pirsig, personal outlooks play a huge role in one's standard of living. Solving a problem but not addressing how that problem came to be in the first place is not actually a successful solution.
A prevailing theme throughout ZAMM is the narrator's attempt to define what "quality" is. Here, a quality solution is one that solves not only the problem at hand, but the overarching cause of it. And at the crux of all problems, there lies a general attitude that can and should be addressed. Whether you're dealing with world peace or ruined plans brought on by a rainy day, a change in perspective can change everything.
3. "On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming."
One of the cardinal sins in Pirsig's philosophy is passivity. Observing things is fine and often encouraged, but neglecting to learn from and interact with the world around you is no way to live. One can only grow and mature if they pay close attention to the world. Otherwise, you run the risk of staying trapped in an unchanging outlook.
This is the best way to learn what true "quality" is, in the philosophical sense. Strictly focusing on living a the highest quality life possible will drive you to insanity because you'll always be focused on what you can do to make things better. But if you focus instead on to the individual things that help make your life better, you can learn quite a lot. Once again, it's the journey, not the destination, that really teaches you about life.
4. "We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world."
Always remember: perspective is everything in life. Pirsig constantly reminds readers that complacency in life is right up there with passivity on the ZAMM list of things not to do in life. When we forget that there's always more out there, we stop searching for more and our lives quickly lose what quality they once had.
This doesn't necessarily mean you have to hop on a motorcycle with your kid and take off on a 17-day journey across America like Pirsig did. It just means that you should never allow yourself to fall into a mundane routine. Even just walking somewhere instead of driving or going to an event by yourself and meeting new people can lead you to discover something new that adds another sandy grain of knowledge to your mental handful.
5. "We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly."
Objectivity and subjectivity are not mutually exclusive. In fact, you need both in order to sustain a quality life. Pirsig spends a lot of time in ZAMM explaining the difference between people who only look at the romantics of life and those who focus on only the mechanics of it.
Subscribing too strongly to either one of these outlooks is a recipe for disaster because you end up missing out on the other half of things. Imagine it this way: if you look at a flower and only see its function, you miss out on the beauty that it adds to the world. But if you only look at the flower's beauty, you miss out on everything that flower contributes to our world as part of the eco system. When you see both the physical beauty and the mechanical beauty of the flower, it's even more impressive than before.
6. "It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow."
If there's a better way of explaining the whole "journey, not the destination" notion, then I've yet to hear it. Constantly focusing on future goals instead of stopping to enjoy things in the present is unhealthy. It results in a fruitless journey with loads of missed chances and regrets.
Nobody wants to look back on their life and say, "Wow, I sure wish I experienced more, but at least I'm rich!" In today's world, we often equate monetary success with concrete success. But for Pirsig, it's all about the quality of your success that matters. And quite honestly, that sounds a lot better than just living a rich but ultimately unfulfilled life.
7. "Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value."
You're just setting yourself up for failure if your goal is to accomplish the impossible; you must arrive there naturally. Of course, you're never actually going to reach that impossible goal because it's, well, impossible. But hey, it's the journey, not the destination!
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