"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Monday, January 28, 2008

Zen and the Art of...

Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

'I could not sleep and I could not stay awake,' he recalls. 'I just sat there cross-legged in the room for three days. All sorts of volitions started to go away. My wife started getting upset at me sitting there, got a little insulting. Pain disappeared, cigarettes burned down in my fingers ...'

It was like a monastic experience?

'Yes, but then a kind of chaos set in. Suddenly I realised that the person who had come this far was about to expire. I was terrified, and curious as to what was coming. I felt so sorry for this guy I was leaving behind. It was a separation. This is described in the psychiatric canon as catatonic schizophrenia. It is cited in the Zen Buddhist canon as hard enlightenment. I have never insisted on either - in fact I switch back and forth depending on who I am talking to.'

Catatonic schizophrenia gets my vote. I think it's important not to confuse enlightenment with insanity, just as it's important not to confuse artistic talent with insanity. Good book, though.

Here is John Daido Loori, Zen master and photographer, on simplicity:

To be simple means to make a choice about what's important, and to let go of all the rest. When we are able to do this, our vision expands, our heads clear, and we can better see the details of our lives in all their incredible wonder and beauty.

Simplicity does not come easily to us in the West. In general, we don't like to give anything up. We tend to accumulate things, thinking that if something is good, we should have more of it. We go through life hoarding objects, people, credentials, ignoring the fact that the more things we have to take care of, the more burdensome our lives become. Our challenge is to find ways to simplify our lives.

From Zen of Creativity: Cultivating your Artistic Life.

It doesn't require a schizophrenic break.


johnbakeronline said...

I'm sure most of us are aware of this accumulation on a personal level, and many of us trying to do something about it. But on a collective level the same process goes on, but much more unconsciously.
When I think of the weight of 2000 years of Western culture, accumulations in literature and the other arts, I'm overwhelmed by the riches and at the same time almost paralyzed by the quantity.

Zen of Writing said...

Good point.

I'm overwhelmed just by the number of unread books in my house, which doesn't even include *all* those I intend to read.