In the mid 1970s, probably staying up to watch football and waiting for it to come on, I caught what must have been an early version of the Late Review or Newsnight Review. Given that my house was a liberal chattering classes free zone I had never watched the programme before. Anyone invited round who was not a true blue Conservative was explained to me before and afterwards, 'Well they are socialists you know', as if that made everything they said and did irrelevant. They probably lived in one of the slightly cheaper detached houses on the other side of the road and lectured at the university.
And that night one of the books being reviewed was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I can't recall much of the discussion except that my interest was caught. I don't think I knew that books could have titles like this.
I did nothing about it.
Fast forward ten years. In that time I had moved out, married, had two children and headed off to train for the ordained ministry. I wasn't much of a studier. Scary. I worked out how to write acceptable essays and pass exams. I captained the football team, co-wrote a musical, met some people who were actually politically engaged and I enjoyed their company.
How little I knew myself then. I swear that, given my character and knowing what I now know, if you had deposited me in college for three years and told me to find out what I thought I needed to know to be ordained I would have made a fist of it.
The study days I remember best, and learned most from, were those when there was no essay to be produced or exam to be passed. They were days when I pursued reading on a subject that had made me curious.
One such day was the day, browsing in the library, I came across Robert M. Pirsig's book. There probably was an essay deadline on something else looming but I would have had an intuitive sense that it was not so near that I couldn't take some time out to skim this book.
As I recall I read the first page standing at the shelves, the first chapter back at my upstairs library study cubicle and the whole book pretty quickly.
As a Christian with a conversion experience I had already had my life changed more than most and, if I'm honest, more than I wanted. Yet here was I reading a book with a sub-title:
This book will change the way you think and feel about your life
I think the Christian truth that sometimes you need to wait, hope, rest and pray came home to me more deeply by reading this book than it had through years of Bible study. It taught me what Rob Bell today calls punk wisdom. If you can't make sense of the information coming at you don't hide - take in some more. If the Director wanted you to know what that scene was about she would have told you. The greatest skill available to anyone, for free, is that of observing the surroundings and making connections.
I don't like motor cycles. I like the way Pirsig describes taking them apart. He likes looking around at the scenery as he rides long. I like looking out of the window. Sometimes, when I do that, I catch a glimpse into my soul. It's not that bad.
Pirsig died recently. Here's a key thought. It's a life-changer. He discusses fixing his bike. At the top of the page of notes (it can be an imaginary page) he writes:
Problem: fix bike's electrical system
This is a mistake, he says. Even if he is 90% certain that the problem is in the electrical system and it is the first thing he is going to check, he may have taken a major wrong turning. He should write (and again the page can be imaginary):
Problem; fix bike
Theory 1; check electrics
Then, when he finds the electrics working, he won't have run out of ideas.
The same sort of thinking applies (I now apply this thinking) to idea-generating. If a group of people are bouncing ideas around do not put the first idea generated in the top left hand corner of the flip-chart page. If you do that you impose an order on the ideas that, psychologically, suggest that the best one comes first. Start in the middle and work out. Make the connections and collate after all ideas are out. If you are doing an ideas-generating session without a flip-chart or other visual display I can't help you any more.
I have more important things to do than write this piece but, as it happens, while I was writing it one of the problems I should have been attending to solved itself and went away.
I described myself as a Zen-Christian once, this upset some people from the Hezbollah wing of the Church of England so I stopped.
But hear this from chapter 25:
I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature,...
...or with programs full of things for other people to do,...
...The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.
Christian sentiment; Zen expression.
Oh and this. If you believe in the ultimate inter-connectedness of all things. Yesterday there was a bit of fuss on the news about a female red-winged blackbird that had accidentally found its way across the Atlantic to the Scottish Isles. I just re-read page 1 of the book and there is a father trying to impress his eleven year old son by pointing out a red-winged blackbird. The son is unimpressed.
Five years after reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I became a bit interested in birds. Female red-winged blackbirds don't have red wings.