Zen, Motorcycle, Mom

Posted on June 25, 2020


Yesterday I wrote about my first day on my first motorcycle.

Today I am thinking of the cycles of time.

For many years, I held to a summer time tradition of reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Just the mention of the title puts me back on the bike with parent and child, motoring through wetlands where red-winged blackbirds perch on cattail heads. Or hiking the high country of the mind, philosophy, and rhetoric.

Thirty seven years ago today, I experienced my first day as a mom.

My water broke; I called the midwife; Tim installed a window air conditioner; we gathered all the supplies for welcoming our baby…

The day grew hot, hot, hotter. I gave up walking outside for walking from the bathroom at one end of the house, where I’d shower, to the bathroom at the other end of the house, where I’d shower…Did I mention that it was HOT?!

Foreshadowing the night owl we’d come to know, we welcomed baby Ty to the family around eleven p.m.

In celebration of Ty’s birth and our shared joys of motorcycles, reading, and philosophy,
I share a favorite Pirsig passage:

Phaedrus is fascinated too by the description of ‘duty to self’ which is an almost exact tranlsation of the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes described as the ‘one’ of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the ‘virtue’ of the ancient Greeks be identical?

Then Phaedrus feels a tugging to read the passage again, and he does so and then…what’s this?…’That which we translate ‘virtue’ but is in Greek ‘excellence.’

Lightning hits!

Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That is what the Sophists were teaching!

….The rain has lifted enough so that we can see the horizon now, a sharp line demarking the light grey of the sky and the darker grey of the water.

Kitto had more to say about his aretê of the ancient Greeks. ‘When we meet aretê in Plato, we translate it ‘virtue’ and consequently miss all the flavour of it. ‘Virtue,’ at least in modern English, is almost entirely a moral word; aretê, on the other hand, is used indifferently in all the categories, and simply means excellence.

….Aretê implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency–or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in any one department of life but in life itself.

Phaedrus remembered a line from Thoreau: ‘You never gain something but that you lose something.’ And now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth–but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude; an understanding of what it is to be part of the world and not an enemy of it.

….Phaedrus knew…that this Greek aretê was the missing piece that completed the pattern.

….the Good was not a form of reality. It was reality itself, ever changing, ultimately unknowable… (340-342)

Another of my favorite writers and teachers, Robin Wall Kimmerer, discusses the traditional Potawatomi teaching of living as part of the world in this video: Reciprocity. Enjoy.

Happy Birthday, Ty. Keep the shiny side up.


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lisa eddy is a writer, researcher, educator, advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com