I know, this is a funny topic for me.
I read this book in 1983, and hardly remember anything about it. I liked it at the time, for what it was. And of course, what it was was an anti-Christian bit of cultic and heretical propaganda. :-)
I was studying to be a theoretical physicist (at a local junior college - don't ask), but I about half-wanted to be a mechanic. So this little book offered me a twofer deal I couldn't pass on. It gave me a chance to learn about Zen in a kind of semi-safe way, and a chance to learn about mechanicking from a distance. I would be hard pressed to say of which of them I was most scared. Zen was frightening in an eternal way, but mechanicking was frightening in a very visceral man's-man kind of way that left me feeling quite hopeless. Learning about mechanicking from a Zen mystic seemed about right for a wannabe like me.
I think I remember two things from the book. The first is, "Never by a 2-pound hammer - you might be tempted to use it!" But that phrase may never have appeared in the book, or if it did it might be completely stolen from mechanics all over the world.
The second one I'm absolutely sure of. I won't put quote marks around it, because I am giving you 25 year-old impressions of what it meant to me at the time, and there's no telling exactly what he really said. It went like this.
Turn off your radio. Zen is about being in the now, wholly present in the moment that is. Life is about being in the now. But if the thing that you are doing is fixing a motorcycle, how can the thing you're doing be listening to the radio? And if the thing you're doing is listening to the radio, how can it be fixing the motorcycle? Do what you're doing with all your being.
That hit me hard. I was always trying to do two things at once, and no matter how eternally damning Zen might be, the joker was right. I simply could not do two things at once, and even if I could, I could not do them both with all my heart. I could not do them both to the glory of God.
I never forgot that. For a year or two of my ten under the hood, I listened to the radio while I turned wrenches. I spent months listening to a rotation of a handful of tapes and crying to them as often as not. But for the most part, I found I was happier when the radio was off and I was pleasantly cursing the problem at hand. [Mechanicking really is calculated to drive a man to despair. If it were not for the (even if they're sometimes pyrrhic) victories at the end of every nightmare, I'm sure we'd all quit.]
The other night, I told my small group that I'd turned off the radio in my car 2 years ago. You should have seen the jaws drop. But yes, I sit in traffic in complete silence, just listening to the engines of all the cars around me, and the blowing of the heater fan, and how the sounds play off the brim of my hat. Sometimes I play my harmonica, but not even much of that these days.
And it helps.
It's an odd thing. I committed years ago that once I got on the road, I was done trying not to be late. Once I was on the road, nothing I could do would get me there more than 2 minutes faster, so I'd just be an extra 2 minutes late rather than frazzle myself every morning and evening. Once I'm on the road, I pick the lane that is easiest on my attitude, and drive fast enough to keep the guy behind me from getting mad. If I can't drive that fast, I move over. If 6 people pull in front of me, I might speed up, but not because I'm mad. (Yes, sometimes individual morons irritate me, but usually not more than once a week.)
And since I'm not in a hurry, and not on edge, and not looking for that 3 car-length advantage every 10 seconds, I can let my mind go where it will.
The radio kills that mindset, and yes, I mean Christian radio. It takes my mind where I don't want to go. Once or twice in each trip, I might hear a song that connects with me, but more often than not it's a song that connects with where I was last week. I end up being happy the song meant a lot to me last week, and singing it with joy, but it's last week's joy.
I'm not against the radio itself. 4 years ago, just after the divorce, the radio was a near-constant blessing to me, and I listened to it every minute. Today, though, it isn't. The song, "Be Still My Soul," moved me a couple weeks ago. So, I spent a week memorizing it in the car. (Have you EVER known a song to be so hard to memorize???) I did it at my pace, and with my convictions, so it felt like it was mine. It felt peaceful and comforting. At it's best, the radio seems to dangle the hope of something beautiful much more often than it delivers, so I guess I'm against it a little bit, but I'll probably turn my radio back on some day.
So, I thought about all this.
And I thought, "Why does Zen do this kind of thinking, and Christianity doesn't?"
Why does Zen have so much to say about getting up in the morning and making breakfast and getting ready for bed at night, and Christianity doesn't?
It's just something to ponder.