Zen and the Art of Suburban Driving

Zen Pictograph

Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.

I don’t know if you remember a book from the early 1970’s called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. It was a freakish best-seller that caught on with everyone from hippies to philosophy professors. It recounted a motorcycle trip by the author and his son, narrated by an alternative persona named Phaedrus. Phaedrus attempts to reconcile the classic view of life and reality with the romantic side, or the rational with the spiritual, emotional and intuitive parts These lofty considerations aside, one comment I would make about the book is that Phaedrus is totally crazy about maintaining his machine. Now, I’ve never even been on a motorcycle, much less ridden one, but I do know that bicycles take some maintenance. And maintaining one wasn’t what I would call a high point in my life, and I certainly didn’t burst with joy when I had to do it. Call me insensitive, but that’s how it is. (A bit of free advice here: never, never, never, I repeat, never attempt to adjust the spokes on a bicycle. You’ll end up with a wheel whose shape might charitably be described as resembling that of a hippodrome. Oval wheels don’t make for a smooth ride, so just bite the bullet and pay someone to do it who knows how.)

The book sometimes ended up in the car/truck/train/airplane motorcycle section of some bookstores, and I’ll tell you why. This is a well-kept secret, so don’t tell anyone, but people who buy for bookstores don’t read every book they put on the shelf. Neither do librarians. They read reviews, and this practices sometime got school librarians in trouble when a book contained material unsuited for students. We English teachers didn’t have that problem because we were required to read every book we taught. This didn’t cause much strain on us since English teachers like to read. We also understood the importance of becoming familiar with everything we taught. One teacher didn’t preview a film called The Golden Fleece and ordered it, thinking it was about Jason and the Argonauts. It wasn’t: it was about sheep ranching in Australia. If I had done this, I wouldn’t have told anyone about it, but she told everyone.

All this is a prelude to my latest attempt to save money and gas (but not time). I have taken to driving at the speed limit (not five miles over, which seems to be the norm around here) and coasting as much as possible. I have found I am able to coast most of the way from Caton Merchant House where my Dad lives to my house. I have learned several things from this experiment:

  1. If you’re going to do this, don’t try it with a long line of traffic behind you. You’ll either be shot or run over.
  2. Expect to become very aware of the topography of the region. Since I started doing this, I find myself looking for a route with as many downslopes as possible. Of course, that means going uphill on the way back, but into every life some rain must fall.
  3. Deliberately slowing down induces in me a state resembling that of meditation. We all live busy, harried lives, and driving is a big stressor. It doesn’t have to be.

I have not run through a tank of gas yet doing this, but I’ll let you know if it works. If it doesn’t I can always go back to driving like I’m in a stock car race. Old habits are hard to break.

All this does have a spiritual side. I believe God honors us when we are still, when we take our time, when we are more aware of God’s creation all around us. I hope whatever method you choose to achieve these states of mind, it works for you and that it works well and allows you to let God work in and through you to the glory of God and the coming of the heavenly kingdom.