Learning Zen, The Hard Way

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Apologies readers for a long delay in posting. I’m glad to say that while I may not have built Pax Plena, and though I may have left it in a somewhat derelict state, the site is, indeed, not dead.

My lack of posts can best be summed up as having an over abundance of time. With Tucson’s sultry monsoon season upon us, I’ve spent a great deal of time enjoying the climate control of our casita, enjoying a glass of bourbon, and reading Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. While such ventures tend to be more rooted in the introspective rather than the productive, according to Pirsig’s Zen principles, the act of doing nothing is as much a virtue as a vice. 

Pirsig ultimately sums up our state of existence as follows: 

The past cannot remember the past. The future can’t generate the future. The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is. p.289. 

In other words, this moment is all there is. We can no more plan for our future with any measurable certainty than we can rectify the past through our actions in the future. The best we can do, according to Pirsig, is to appreciate “the totality of everything there is,” and presumably take measures to enjoy it a lot more. This has been my personal challenge this summer. Being one who would much rather be active and about the work of some project, having completed my education and being in between jobs, this summer I have had little alternative than to attempt to purposefully structure my time. For example, in order to pass the evenings, I typically sit on my porch to smoke a cigar. Cigars of the corona variety, take about 30 minutes or so to smoke – assuming one draws-in and exhales, as opposed to merely huffing and puffing. 

In honesty, the results have been mixed. I find my mind wanders a great deal when I attempt to set aside time for my zen aspirations. I’m sure a better Buddhist would tell me that “I’m doing it wrong.” Still, I find the time is relaxing even if it has not been overly productive in a typical sense. It’s nice to consider all the things going on in our world, to consider the structural challenges to progress that our lot faces, and even to consider the immediate future, to appreciate my wife, our soon-to-be-born son, family, friends, and of course our Pooch.

I can’t say that this has been an altogether bad summer. I suppose my reticence to enjoy the here and now as Pirsig would have me do is really a reflection of my own soul and personality. Bertrand Russell struck a similar tone in his essay, In Praise of Idleness. My own autobiography might be better titled, Idly Praising, at least so far as this summer is concerned. The notion of idleness is not something I have come to find comfortable, my study of Pirsig notwithstanding.  

Still, change comes as it invariably must. Fall will be here soon. In the coming weeks, we have a number of major, life events looming on the horizon including deciding my professional next steps, the prospect of relocation from Tucson, and, of course, the joyful arrival or our son in October – to say nothing of the start of Football season, which is one of the ways God shares his love with us. 

While I have not learned Pirsig’s lessons about living in the now, it would be amiss to say that I’ve learned nothing. I am gradually coming to terms with the unknown. By this point, the unknown is more like an old friend than an apparition. And like the fisherman in my Bonsai above, I’m content to enjoy my shade, and let time work its transition from a future of possibility into the certitude of the past. 

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