I first read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in my senior year of high school. I read it again in college with a group of friends, and again a few years later. I’ve read it over and over because I like the idea of the motorcycle as an extension of the self, that maintaining the motorcycle is a way to be fully present and being fully present is a way to feed one’s interior life.
The interior life is a fascinating thing. No one else can see it. No one knows what’s going on in there. But each of us carries our own private interior life around with us. We know it well, though others know of us only what we present.
As Jesus pointed out the seven woes of the Pharisees, he said, “First clean the inside of the cup, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:26). Take care of your interior life. Clean it, care for it. Your exterior life will reflect it. Maintain your motorcycle and maintain yourself.
It seems pretty basic: slow down, pay attention, be present in each moment, live with intention. With cultural shifts toward intentional living, such as the slow food movement and the revitalization of homesteading, it seems as if the maintenance of the interior life should be easy, or at least easier.
But, of course, life gets busy and often chaotic. I have to remind myself to embrace the chaos. I try to pause and reflect, sometimes to no avail. Without a break, a Sabbath, or a moment to exhale, the chaos can easily leave the inside of my cup tarnished and maybe even a little cracked.
It’s a question of how we nurture ourselves.
I don’t mean to imply that the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, and reading the Scriptures are not necessary to the maintenance of the interior life. Indeed, they are critical. But doing them doesn’t automatically mean that we won’t feel depleted or that we don’t need rest.
It also doesn’t mean that we make enough space in our lives to play and imagine and create. For me, that’s when the nurturing comes in. It may seem childish and silly, but finding ways to create and play always seems to replenish my interior life.
Recently, I started reading through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The book is a sort of creative self-therapy. Every day you hand-write three pages of whatever comes to mind. The writing is merely a brain dump — stream of consciousness, no filter — in order to clear your mind to allow your creativity to flow. In addition to these three pages, Cameron suggests you take yourself on an artist date once a week, a specific time when you go do something fun alone. It need not be artistic, per se — just an opportunity for your “artist child” to play. Each chapter has specific tasks to be completed throughout the week, in addition to the daily writing and artist dates, that serve to break down the things that can produce creative blocks.
One of the main principles is that creativity is a spiritual experience. When we create something, we join with God, the Great Creator.
Call it genius or creative energy or the Holy Spirit, the force that moves through us as we create moves because we are made in his image. We create because he made us creative. Whether we write, paint, swing a hammer, or design skyscrapers, we partner with God in creation.
As I work through The Artist’s Way, something interesting is happening. I feel lighter, freer, and generally happier. The exercises feel more like play and less like work, and every week I look forward to what might come next.
I’ve always been a creative type. I write and dabble in photography and doodle a lot. The Artist’s Way is right up my alley. It might not be for you, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t creative. I tend to agree with Madeleine L’Engle who, in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, writes, “Unless we are creators we are not fully alive. . . . Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts.”
For me, being creative is essential to the maintenance of my motorcycle, the cleaning of my cup, and the care for my interior life. For you it may be different. But each of us has to find the right way to nurture and care for ourselves. Our interior lives, our motorcycles, should run as well as possible.