“The train of his abstractions became so long and so involved he had to have the surroundings of silence and space here to hold it straight. It was as though hours of constructions would have been shattered by the least distraction of other thought or other duty….It was at a level at which everything shifts and changes, at which institutional values and verities are gone and there is nothing but one’s own spirit to keep one going.” from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
In this passage he is referring of course to the insanity of Phaedrus. He is speaking of how he needed the open space of some area in the mid-west to find solace, and peace for his overwhelming thoughts. But as I read this passage I realized that we all suffer from this insanity, that this is precisely why people seek the serenity of the outdoors, precisely why people meditate and do yoga and even why people do drugs and abuse alcohol. Thoughts can be so overwhelming. I know I faced this very much so, although now thankfully the obsessive thoughts that literally had me crying from not being able to shut them out are now gone. It was only with hard work that they started to fade, hard internal work.
I am reading this other book called The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson “I envy all suffering, because suffering is necessary to become spiritually beautiful….Those who suffer are the elect of God.” This of course spoken by a woman who is at this point in the novel, described as a mental patient.
Since I find it impossible to actually be only reading one thing at a time (my bedfellows are not just the dog and the cat but two magazines, my nook and two books) I have these two stories in my mind. It is in his mental suffering that Phaedrus who is now Robert Pirsig comes to write this amazing, albeit difficult to read treatise on thought. He is now in that place where his overwhelming thoughts have found a mode of expression that is somehow socially acceptable. Would he have ever gotten there without the mental space he created through entering true physical space?
Can we find spiritual enlightenment without the confinement of pain and suffering? Once that space opens up again, and the hurt is eased do you retreat again to the your previous home under a rock, head in the sand? I suppose that some do. Others like me find themselves struggling with thought with truth and understanding.
The world too is overwhelming this way isn’t it? All the horrible things, all the unjust things, all the things that make you shake your head and feel abysmal at the idiocy of mankind. Do you find yourself just seeking the solace of an open space where the news is not audible? And find yourself wanting to bury your head under the covers, park yourself under a rock like a slick black and yellow spotted salamander? Will all this suffering lead us closer to God? Here is a question. Is there an answer? I find myself thinking this is “God” . All of it.
I suppose I am not a particularly good Buddhist all this talk of God. And as I say this I realize this God concept is the same as the Vastness of Being concept. And now in the cold snowy Sunday morning, I plan to find my space, my solace and serenity in the open air.