The Inner Art of Airmanship

Zen and the Art of …

It’s a cliché. Or at least it can sound like one. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or Zen and the Art of Sock Drawer Organization, or Zen and the Art of Landing the Space Shuttle. But most are serious books with real messages. Here are some good ones I’ve learnt from:

The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art.

In the 1930’s a German philosopher and his wife spent several years in Japan. Eugen taught University courses and learned Zen through archery, while Gustie studied and wrote Zen in the Art of Flower Arrangement. One of the first books to introduce Zen to westerners, and still one of the best for taking the practical route rather than the contemplative. The book titles inspired Pirsig’s memorable classic (next).

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert Pirsig

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become winded, slow down. If bored, speed up. You climb the mountain in equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead (mindfulness) each footstep isn’t just a means to an end, but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are the things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It is the sides of the mountain that sustain the top. Here is where things grow. But of course, without the top, you can’t have any sides.

Maybe the best known book with Zen and Art in the title. It’s a clever title, worthy of a clever book. Actually not an exploration of a Way (save a little motorcycle maintenance), or of traditional Zen, but rather a major expedition into quality. It’s a complex story of relationships, values, madness, and, eventually, enlightenment. Could well argue there is little connection to flying, but maybe not. Either way, it is an amazing philosophical tour de force, and prompted others to question traditions and to explore Zen ideas.

Zen Tennis: Eastern Wisdom For Western Sport

Paul Mutimer

Gradually I began to see a strong connection between Eastern philosophies and their application to tennis. The satori experience, of being fully in the moment, found its expression in watching the ball. The flowing gentle movements of Tai Chi became possible in tennis. The need for the balanced approach of Hard and Soft techniques on Kung Fu became obvious. The apparently distint worlds of tennis and meditation started to come together. I began to see a bigger picture operating in my life that drew these semmingly different worlds together.

Accessible introduction for bringing Eastern philosophy into sport. Playing in the zone, Yin and Yang, mind, body, belief. Written by a tennis player who was sidelined due to injury, found meditation, played better, and became a coach. Not as deep as other books here, but does quickly covers a lot of the landscape commen to sports and Eastern philosphies.

Zen and the Art of Writing

Ray Bradbury

If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is — excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it'd be better for his health.

Work. Relaxation. Don’t Think!

These are the three ideas that famed writer Bradbury links together in a short but powerful essay of Zen. For someone who “knew nothing of Zen until a few weeks ago” he clearly shows right mind here in words.

Cruising Blues and Their Cure

Robert Pirsig
Esquire magazine, May 1977, pages 65-68.

It has something to do with the way the sea and sun and wind and sky go on and on day after day, week after week, and the boat and you have to go on with it. You must take the helm and change the sails and take sights of the stars and work out their reductions and sleep and cook and eat and repair things as they break and do most of these things in stormy weather as well as fair, depressed as well as elated, because there’s no choice. You get used to it; it becomes habit-forming and produces a certain change in values.

The author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance takes a slightly different tack. An article about people who work and save and dream for years to buy a boat, then end up selling it in disgust shortly afterwards, victims of what he calls the Cruising Blues. It’s a meditation that works equally well for flying as it does for sailing.

The Centered Skier

Denise McCluggage

I was high on t'ai chi and aikido and eager to apply their concepts of Centerness and energy flow to skiing. Why not t'ai ski? Ai-ski-do? The East comes to Eastern skiing!

Groundbreaking book. Legendary motorsports writer brings together Zen, Taoist philosophy, Chinese calligraphy, and snow skiing into a meaningful — and useful — whole.

The Way isn’t something that can be put into words. You have to practice before you can understand. You can’t force things, including practice. Understanding is something that happens naturally. It’s different for everyone. The main thing is to reduce your desires and quiet your mind.

Hsueh-tou Chih-chien

You must make the most strenuous efforts. Throughout this life, you can never be certain of living long enough to take another breath.

Huang Po

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We must learn to differentiate clearly the fundamentally important, that which is really basic, from that which is despensable, and to turn aside from everything else, from the multitude of things which clutter up the mind and divert it from the essential.

Albert Einstein

I never cite Buddha’s words or the word of Zen patriarchs when I teach. All I do is comment directly on people themselves. That takes care of everything. I Don’t have to quote either the Buddha Dharma or the Zen Dharma. I Don’t have to when I can clear everything up for you by commenting directly on you and your personal concerns right here and now. I’ve no reason to preach about Buddhism or Zen.


The great end of life is not knowledge but action.

Thomas Henry Huxley