Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zen and the Art of Self Maintenance

As he was testing hypothesis number one by experimental method a flood of other hypotheses would come to mind, and as he was testing these, some more came to mind, and as he was testing these, still more came to mind until it became painfully evident that as he continued testing hypotheses and elimating them or confirming them their number did not decrease. It actually increased as he went along.

Over the last 10 nights I've read a chapter out of Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance before going to sleep. It's a big book, but at my current pace I'll finish it in a few more weeks. Though this sounds like a slow way to read a book, Zen Moto. is a book that should be read slowly and pondered. It a spiritual journey driven on two wheels across America.

Many times this book has made me pause and reflect on my own life's journey and future course. With this new year comes a new course for America and a new course for my life as well. Three weeks ago I began taking teacher certification classes at Texas Tech University here in Lubbock. Though I've still got a few semesters between me and my goal of teaching high school English, I feel like my life is on a good course.

Pirsig's round and round thoughts on the scientific method and testing hypotheses struck a deep note within me; not because I had never thought about my life in such terms before, but because I know that he has thought about his life in a way I have, too. I've viewed my life as an experiment or a test many times. I didn't start thinking this way until I reached a sort of emotional literacy wherein I'm somewhat capable of relating my innerworkings to external experiences.

My own self literacy began as I packed for my journey to Japan. I was nervous, unsure about my sucess, but confident I would suceed nonetheless. As the plane's wheels left the earth I looked around at the jet load of new JETs flying into the unknown. Everyone seemed pretty excited, and I posed as much. Yet inside I kept asking myself if I had made the right decision. That's when I realized, "This what I feel like when I take tests." I've always passed tests but how well I passed them is another issue. In school I had always envied those kids who walked in, took a test, and walked out like it was no big deal. I always posed and acted as if it wasn't a big deal either.

I had a simuliar feeling when I left Japan, only then I had a tender mass thoughts and emotions running through my that I hadn't experienced before and had nothing to relate them to, except maybe a test I was still taking and wasn't quite sure I was passing.

What Pirsig writes about the struggle in the face of multiplying hyotheses is what I felt, and still feel inside. In the laboratory of life, hypotheses are commonly called "hypothetical situations," and these situations tend to multiply as well. One "What if..." question quickly leads to more "What if..." question until one's whole life is up for grabs. The real problem with multiplying hypotheses is that there is no way to test them all. I am a being in time; I cannot go back and alter my life, nor can I try on different roles and return to point X in time should a role not work out. I am a being in time, and truth is in the present; as Pirsig asks Einstein, "did [you] really mean to state that truth was a function of time?"

It is impossible to test all the hypotheticals in my life or your own. At bottom of all these hypotheticals is "a gap of pure nothing." Maybe you've tried, as I have, imagining a bridge between life and the hypothetical life that might've been or still could be. I've imagined amazing lives for myself, and thus far I feel I'm reasonably passing the "Are you living a fulfilling life test."

Marking this new year, 2009, I've chosen one hypothesis out the infinite before me: to become a high school English teacher. There is no way of knowing now, in the present, if this choice will be better than the other choices might have been. But that is not a question to ponder on too deeply; because like all hypothetical questions it has no bottom. A man is not judged by what he could've done but what he did; for, unfortunately, it is only the man's that judges him by the former.
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All qoutations from chapter 10.
If your computer can't read Japanese you will see a box where a more meaningful symbol resides. I feel this Japanese symbol better expresses my sentimets than multiple English words.

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