The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Announcing September’s theme: Zen and the Art of Road Trips

For many of us, Autumn is a time to reassess.

The dog days of summer are over, the leaves are starting to turn, and as winter approaches it’s inevitable we wonder where time has gone – and what we have done with it — since the last snows melted.

September in my part of the world happens to be a sweet spot in the annual weather pattern. For six weeks or so, the temperature and humidity are equable, and the New England fall foliage is spectacular.

This period around the equinox, it seems, is a time for last-minute new beginnings before winter sets in; a time to think about Life’s direction; a time to blow away the cobwebs.

It is, in short, the perfect time for a road trip.

“It’s a little better to travel than to arrive.”

In the summer of 1968, Robert Pirsig made a 17-day journey from Minnesota to California on his Honda CB77 Super Hawk, with his 11-year-old son, Chris, riding pillion. With them were Pirsig’s friends, John and Sylvia Sullivan, on their BMW. While it was a time for geographical exploration, it was also a time for meditation. Pirsig commented:

Unless you’re fond of hollering you don’t make great conversations on a running cycle. Instead you spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them.

His memoir of the trip, entwined with his philosophical explorations, of course, became the modern classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

This month we will be looking at this book, and asking ourselves what lessons we can derive from it that apply to today’s travelers and expats.

“Although motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic.”

A concept Pirsig explores is that of romantic versus classical approaches to life: a Romantic focuses on being in the moment, rather than on rational analysis, whereas a Classically minded person wants to know all the details and inner workings of a situation.

When we travel, who among us likes to know the story behind the places we visit — and who is content to observe the surface appearance?

“To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.”

In other words, as we’ve all seen on those motivational posters, it’s the journey that counts, not the destination.

How many of us are guilty of ignoring the mountain flowers as we climb the mountain, or of ignoring the minutiae of daily life in a small town as we travel through it?

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

And then we arrive at the top of the mountain — or at the end point of our long journey — and we look around.

“Is this it?” we wonder.

Look around. Look a little farther. Look behind you, from where you came. That long journey?  You did that. All those random events, good and bad — the pit stops at old-fashioned diners, the Good Samaritan who helped you change a tire in the middle of nowhere, the time you ‘paid it forward’ by helping someone else on their journey — they all formed a pattern that has become part of your life.

Now, doesn’t that look better?

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

So this September, The Displaced Nation will be talking about all things road trips.

Who makes them? Why?

And are they really times of new beginnings?
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