Zen and the Art of Zen

I hear people complaining of how busy their lives are and wonder at their inability to put down their copy of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ and consider what it’s saying.

Life isn’t a race, yet guru types will tell you it is the winners who will step out of the race before it burns them out. When someone said that to me two years ago I almost drowned on my Hoegarden laughing. That was before I became one of the marathon runners who falls by the wayside and has to be taken away wearing one of those silver blankets. I literally reached a point where it became difficult for me to be me. I didn’t change any of my habits but suddenly I couldn’t get enough sleep and by the end of the day I was having trouble stringing words together in a way that made sense. If I had have had better use of my facilities I may have worried that I was going mad but as it was I forced myself to read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ word by word - but totally overlooked any meaning that may have been any use to me.

I’m not touchy feely, but even in my dense state of being I knew I was missing something or something was amiss. So I planned a regime of retreats. Or as I like to think of it now a retreat crawl. I entered crawling, but if I’m to use the cliché attracting words of those gurus again, I left walking tall. I did some research and found out whose program of healing hands I wanted to lay myself in front of.

The Ashram was too full, or my need not great enough - I was trying to arrange my tour de retreat via email while at work so they may not have seen how desperate I was. So I began at the Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey. It was not the luxury I was expecting but I may have been better for it, this is real Zen that I couldn’t just address one word at a time, and here I began to consider alternative perspectives. Like coloured glasses on the world, these monks have a different way of seeing things which is actually calming just to be around. Further north and slightly less rigid was my second stop, the Tharpaland Centre which again works with Buddhist principles, but is more reliant on meditation than spirituality. You may think my attitude now sounds flippant but I was genuinely in need of the kind of assistance you can’t get from your work mates or drinking buddies, and though it may seem unbelievable, here I finally understood the point of yoga. It’s the breathing that does it, not just the waiting around in poses, that's a sound metaphor for my whole problem.

I didn’t really understand how universal my problems are until I attended my third retreat at the Krishnamurti Centre. This experience was much more what I had been expecting in the beginning, a lot of talking and thinking, but because I had had the experiences with Buddhism I was much more open to talk of this kind than I would have been had I come here first.

By this point on my journey I had realised that a more physical experience with the world was needed, so I spent the last of my weeks holiday from work cycling in the Scottish Highlands, drinking whiskey in the evenings and riding all day. Again this isn’t a show of my flippancy towards what I had learned, but my decision to think about it and start living as I intended, to do more things to make myself feel happy and alive and to listen to myself and what goes on around me. I'm not going to tell you what to do, or how the world works or what it's all about. I'm not going to tell you I found myself or God or happiness, but I did take in everything that was said to me and have let what I heard sink in and only those around me will be able to tell you whether or not I'm a better person for it. Now if someone said to me Life isn't a race, but it's the winners who bow out before they burn out I'd still choke on my Hoegarden but boy would I enjoy that belly laugh.

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