When I was a teenager, I saw a new book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It was something I never read. I didn’t seem to be able to relate to something like this at the time. I just thought that it was a strange combination of ideas, from Buddhist meditation techniques to something as prosaic as the work of a mechanic servicing the machines that make schoolboys dream. I am almost in a mind to buy this book and read it, because it is a work of philosophy arising from the cultures that formed our baby-boomer generation.
Going by what I read about this work, there are two essential ideas corresponding with the two parts of the title, namely the desire for something like self-knowledge and “being” on one hand, and on the other, seeking to know the details and reasons for everything, having an enquiring mind. Oddly, this is often the binary that is found in a relationship between a man and a woman. Men often love technical things and reasons for everything, whilst a woman goes by emotion, immediate necessities and instincts. Of course, there are exceptions to these stereotypes, and life has many surprises for us all. If any of my readers has read this book, comments would be most welcome.
How was I brought to think about this product of our age and something so eschewed by those who would love to go back to the 1920’s or the nineteenth century? A very interesting blog linked to one of my articles – Real Rest is the Best dedicated to, I’ll put it in his words – “I am a beloved child of God, and so are you. We are spiritual beings on a human journey. My main interests in life include Nature, music, spirituality, inspiration, philosophy, sports, reading and photography“. I wondered at first whether this blog was not some kind of machine-manufactured spam site to get us to buy something. No, it is obviously a real blog with some quite enlightening articles in the light of my recent discovery of those who go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters.
The main theme dealt with in this blog is the ever-elusive post-modernism, or the revolt by people of our time against discredited old structures and social conventions. Knowing whether the blog author is an “orthodox” Christian is of no concern to me. There are some fascinating articles. I mentioned Nietzsche in his solitude in the Swiss Alps when writing about the sea, and then I discover Finding solitude where our hearts can grow in love and the quote “the only cure for loneliness is solitude”.
Continuing on from my reflections about solitary yachting, I see so many of my own intuitions reflected in this article. There are two notions that are related but distinct: loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is the condition of alienation found in the writings of existentialists like Sartre, the feeling of alienation from the society in which we feel we need to be integrated and resulting loss of self-esteem. Solitude, on the other hand, is a decision to retreat from the “world” to recover our purpose in life and sense of identity – to seek God. In the tradition of the Church, you can enter a monastery and become a hermit when your Abbot thinks you are ready for it, or you can simply go on a retreat for a week.
I have done retreats, but find them of little meaning. St Ignatius of Loyola had many ideas that are reflected by aspects of modern psychology. For example, you don’t make a decision when you’re upset! He would call it the discernment of spirits. But, many people find such experiences tremendously fulfilling, and retreats can be very useful for spiritual and personal growth. That is if those responsible are mature human beings, which has not always been the case in my experience!
The best retreat need not take more than a week, but away from people, churches and religious establishments. Try camping for a few days in the woods or the mountains if you get seasick… Just a short walk in the park after work for city-dwellers can make all the difference. It takes a very special kind of person to cope with nine months at sea, as we saw with the account of the 1968-69 non-stop circumnavigation race. Crowhurst was driven to insanity, Moitessier found himself and rejected the rules of the race and Knox-Johnston seems more to have had the “profile” of the motorcycle mechanic, the practical man who kept his mind on the job and returned home to richly-deserved fame and glory. Between Moitessier and Knox-Johnston, who was right? Some of my readers ask this question and see the limitations of those who would have strong opinions of what is right and wrong.
Have a look at this blog, even if it doesn’t seem to be “your thing”. I find depth of thought, something less messy than dismantled motorcycle engines and less “exotic” than Buddhist meditation, perhaps close to our own gardens of the soul…