David Harding is an on-line acquaintance – (since met in person) – who shares my interest in Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ). Recently he posted his own personal story on his Quality Metaphysics web-pages.
There are several important parallels – and differences – with my own story, and with Pirsig’s too.
The main trajectory starts with having a nagging suspicion that something is fundamentally wrong (with accepted world-views of life, the universe and everything). A suspicion that becomes a frustrating certainty until a “seed crystal” aha moment, in discovering an expression of what that is, in the MoQ.
In Pirsig’s case the certainty of doubt arose when he was a precocious 15/16 year old, advanced 2 years to studying freshman chemistry at the University of Minnesota in 1944. There was 15 years more doubt and drifting before his seed crystal aha moment when teaching English in Montana in 1959, but it took him another 15 years to work out his own MoQ and get Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM) published in 1974. The rest, as they say, is history, but that final third of his journey took him via the incarceration and enforced treatments of clinical insanity.
My own story follows that same doubt / frustration / seed-crystal / aha trajectory though it started much later in my otherwise conventional life. And, despite retrospective feelings of “there but for grace go we all”, myself included, the very real sense of depression never succumbed to clinical mental illness.
In David’s case the doubt, the suspicion that something’s wrong, something’s missing, arose before he dropped out of high-school and entered an increasingly frustrating period of drifting through despondency and near-suicidal depression. (There but for grace … as I say.) David’s plea for help provided the aha seed-crystal when an ex-teacher not only pointed him at Pirsig’s ZMM but advised him to write what the reading brought to mind.
It was Pirsig’s psychiatrist who told him to “just write something” in order to start his recovery phase. I wasn’t paying attention earlier in my own relatively comfortable and conventional life and career, when an early mentor (late 70’s / early 80’s) told me to write down my important thoughts and a later tutor (late 80’s / early 90’s) recommended I read ZMM. In my case it was at precisely the point much later (9/11-2001), when I started writing – blogging – anything I considered significant, that I saw the point of reading Pirsig. David too saw little value in reading until he did. And again, the rest is history.
Although Pirsig’s books and his metaphysics took on lives of their own, Pirsig pretty much retired as a recluse until he died only last year. David now also writes, blogging and sharing his significant thoughts via social media.
I’m guessing because I’m older, maybe I’d like to think wiser, while I still consider Pirsig’s MoQ to be significant, central to my own thought journey, and indeed invaluable as an ongoing practical framework, I’ve come to see the MoQ as part of a perennial philosophy. As such I’m less concerned with what Pirsig invented precisely, than I am with wider expression and application of the perennial content – a rose by any other name – nothing new under the sun except reinterpretation and expression.
I’d still recommend anyone who has serious doubts and frustrations with received wisdom – and doesn’t get the idea that this is a metaphysical problem – read Pirsig. Hell, yes. Just because I like to think I’ve moved on doesn’t mean we should pull the ladder up. David has made it his life’s work to promote Pirsig’s metaphysics explicitly. Go read what he has to say.
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