Recently Montana State University held a symposium on the groundbreaking book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. Scholars discussed the importance of this work, the author’s life story, even the route of the trip he took on the motorcycle journey which is the central metaphor in this philosophical work. Bozeman Montana, the “high country of the mind,” plays a critical part in the book, Pirsig’s life and the development of his philosophy called the “Metaphysics of Quality.”
While teaching writing at MSU, an engaging classics professor asked Pirsig if he was teaching “quality.” The question hounded him and he even enlisted his students in the search for quality. Although they discovered everyone could agree more or less on what embodied quality, they were no closer to defining it.
His search led him to study philosophy at the University of Chicago, as well as a mental breakdown and the subsequent re-making of his life. He finally resolved his search for self and the parameters of quality through the journey described in his book. His philosophy defines quality as dynamic experience versus the remnants of that experience, which is static knowledge. Pirsig uses the metaphor of a train; the leading edge is the dynamic experience of quality, while the rest of the train is static knowledge, our backlog of experiences (baggage!) that we bring forward. This static knowledge base is relatively fixed and provides us with a framework for functioning, but has little quality, or energy, in itself.
As you may guess from the title of the book, Pirsig’s experience with Zen Buddhism informed his philosophical tenets. In Zen Buddhism the truest experience of reality is what is happening this very moment, with your full attention and consciousness engaged - a fully present You interacting with what is arising before the mind interferes with its’ judgments, analysis, past and future projections and other distractions. This engagement is the experience of quality.
During a Q&A at the symposium, a woman asked “How do we bring quality into healthcare? How do we institutionalize this in caregiver/patient interaction? How do we teach it?” In practicing energy healing we are interacting, as Pirsig defines it, in a quality way with our client. We immerse ourselves in sensing into a client; we respond with an appropriate action; then we once again immerse our full, unbiased attention to the next moment. I call this back and forth a movement between Being and Doing, between dynamic and static.
Training as an energy healer develops both the ability to focus and receive dynamic information in the Being state, as well as providing us with models and techniques for the Doing. This is the kind of training that would greatly benefit all health care practitioners and bring another dimension of “quality” to our healthcare system.