Motorcycle maintenance, zen, and photography
Reading Robert M. Pirsig's Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I felt that my own thoughts are echoing, especially in the following part, which can be perfectly applied for photography as well... (following a quote from the book)
All kinds of examples from cycle maintenance could be given, but the most striking example of value rigidity I can think of is the old South Indian Monkey Trap, which depends on value rigidity for its effectiveness. The trap consists of a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the monkey's hand can go in, but too small for his fist with rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped...by nothing more than his own value rigidity. He can't revalue the rice. He cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable than capture with it. The villagers are coming to get him and take him away. They're coming closer -- closer! -- now! What general advice...not specific advice...but what general advice would you give the poor monkey in circumstances like this?
Well, I think you might say exactly what I've been saying about value rigidity, with perhaps a little extra urgency. There is a fact this monkey should know: if he opens his hand he's free. But how is he going to discover this fact? By removing the value rigidity that rates rice above freedom. How is he going to do that? Well, he should somehow try to slow down deliberately and go over ground that he has been over before and see if things he thought were important really were important and, well, stop yanking and just stare at the coconut for a while. Before long he should get a nibble from a little fact wondering if he is interested in it. He should try to understand this fact not so much in terms of his big problem as for its own sake. That problem may not be as big as he thinks it is. That fact may not be as small as he thinks it is either. That's about all the general information you can give him.
On the road now and talking about traps again.
The next one is important. It's the internal gumption trap of ego. Ego isn't entirely separate from value rigidity but one of the many causes of it.
If you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened. Your ego isolates you from the Quality reality. When the facts show that you've just goofed, you're not as likely to admit it. When false information makes you look good, you're likely to believe it. On any mechanical repair job ego comes in for rough treatment. You're always being fooled, you're always making mistakes, and a mechanic who has a big ego to defend is at a terrific disadvantage. If you know enough mechanics to think of them as a group, and your observations coincide with mine, I think you'll agree that mechanics tend to be rather modest and quiet. There are exceptions, but generally if they're not quiet and modest at first, the work seems to make them that way. And skeptical. Attentive, but skeptical, But not egoistic. There's no way to bullshit your way into looking good on a mechanical repair job, except with someone who doesn't know what you're doing.
-- I was going to say that the machine doesn't respond to your personality, but it does respond to your personality. It's just that the personality that it responds to is your real personality, the one that genuinely feels and reasons and acts, rather than any false, blown-up personality images your ego may conjure up. These false images are deflated so rapidly and completely you're bound to be very discouraged very soon if you've derived your gumption from ego rather than Quality.
If modesty doesn't come easily or naturally to you, one way out of this trap is to fake the attitude of modesty anyway. If you just deliberately assume you're not much good, then your gumption gets a boost when the facts prove this assumption is correct. This way you can keep going until the time comes when the facts prove this assumption is incorrect.
Anxiety, the next gumption trap, is sort of the opposite of ego. You're so sure you'll do everything wrong you're afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than ``laziness,'' is the real reason you find it hard to get started. This gumption trap of anxiety, which results from overmotivation, can lead to all kinds of errors of excessive fussiness. You fix things that don't need fixing, and chase after imaginary ailments. You jump to wild conclusions and build all kinds of errors into the machine because of your own nervousness. These errors, when made, tend to confirm your original underestimation of yourself. This leads to more errors, which lead to more underestimation, in a self-stoking cycle.
The best way to break this cycle, I think, is to work out your anxieties on paper. Read every book and magazine you can on the subject. Your anxiety makes this easy and the more you read the more you calm down. You should remember that it's peace of mind you're after and not just a fixed machine.
When beginning a repair job you can list everything you're going to do on little slips of paper which you then organize into proper sequence. You discover that you organize and then reorganize the sequence again and again as more and more ideas come to you. The time spent this way usually more than pays for itself in time saved on the machine and prevents you from doing fidgety things that create problems later on.
You can reduce your anxiety somewhat by facing the fact that there isn't a mechanic alive who doesn't louse up a job once in a while. The main difference between you and the commercial mechanics is that when they do it you don't hear about it...just pay for it, in additional costs prorated through all your bills. When you make the mistakes yourself, you at ]east get the benefit of some education.
Boredom is the next gumption trap that comes to mind. This is the opposite of anxiety and commonly goes with ego problems. Boredom means you're off the Quality track, you're not seeing things freshly, you've lost your ``beginner's mind'' and your motorcycle is in great danger. Boredom means your gumption supply is low and must be replenished before anything else is done.
When you're bored, stop! Go to a show. Turn on the TV. Call it a day. Do anything but work on that machine. If you don't stop, the next thing that happens is the Big Mistake, and then all the boredom plus the Big Mistake combine together in one Sunday punch to knock all the gumption out of you and you are really stopped.
My favorite cure for boredom is sleep. It's very easy to get to sleep when bored and very hard to get bored after a long rest. My next favorite is coffee. I usually keep a pot plugged in while working on the machine. If these don't work it may mean deeper Quality problems are bothering you and distracting you from what's before you. The boredom is a signal that you should turn your attention to these problems...that's what you're doing anyway...and control them before continuing on the motorcycle.
For me the most boring task is cleaning the machine. It seems like such a waste of time. It just gets dirty again the first time you ride it. John always kept his BMW spic and span. It really did look nice, while mine's always a little ratty, it seems. That's the classical mind at work, runs fine inside but looks dingy on the surface.
One solution to boredom on certain kinds of jobs such as greasing and oil changing and tuning is to turn them into a kind of ritual. There's an esthetic to doing things that are unfamiliar and another esthetic to doing things that are familiar. I have heard that there are two kinds of welders: production welders, who don't like tricky setups and enjoy doing the same thing over and over again; and maintenance welders, who hate it when they have to do the same job twice. The advice was that if you hire a welder make sure which kind he is, because they're not interchangeable. I'm in that latter class, and that's probably why I enjoy troubleshooting more than most and dislike cleaning more than most. But I can do both when I have to and so can anyone else. When cleaning I do it the way people go to church...not so much to discover anything new, although I'm alert for new things, but mainly to reacquaint myself with the familiar. It's nice sometimes to go over familiar paths.
Zen has something to say about boredom. Its main practice of ``just sitting'' has got to be the world's most boring activity...unless it's that Hindu practice of being buried alive. You don't do anything much; not move, not think, not care. What could be more boring? Yet in the center of all this boredom is the very thing Zen Buddhism seeks to teach. What is it? What is it at the very center of boredom that you're not seeing?
Impatience is close to boredom but always results from one cause: an underestimation of the amount of time the job will take. You never really know what will come up and very few jobs get done as quickly as planned. Impatience is the first reaction against a setback and can soon turn to anger if you're not careful. Impatience is best handled by allowing an indefinite time for the job, particularly new jobs that require unfamiliar techniques; by doubling the allotted time when circumstances force time planning; and by scaling down the scope of what you want to do. Overall goals must be scaled down in importance and immediate goals must be scaled up. This requires value flexibility, and the value shift is usually accompanied by some loss of gumption, but it's a sacrifice that must be made. It's nothing like the loss of gumption that will occur if a Big Mistake caused by impatience occurs.
My favorite scaling-down exercise is cleaning up nuts and bolts and studs and tapped holes. I've got a phobia about crossed or jimmied or rustjammed or dirt-jammed threads that cause nuts to turn slow or hard; and when I find one, I take its dimensions with a thread gauge and calipers, get out the taps and dies, recut the threads on it, then examine it and oil it and I have a whole new perspective on patience. Another one is cleaning up tools that have been used and not put away and are cluttering up the place. This is a good one because one of the first warning signs of impatience is frustration at not being able to lay your hand on the tool you need right away. If you just stop and put tools away neatly you will both find the tool and also scale down your impatience without wasting time or endangering the work.
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