“Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is a book about many things, but at its core there are messages of kindness and compassion. Here’s a summary of the key lessons from this book:
Be curious; ask lots of questions
There are always new things to discover and understand.
In the book, the Author/ Narrator tells his 11-year-old son, Chris, that he’ll teach him motorcycle maintenance if he shows the “right attitudes.” Chris asks: “Will I have the right attitudes?” The narrator replies: “I think so. I don’t think that will be any problem at all.”
Later in the book, the narrator’s son asks his dad ”What do you think about all the time?”. The dad responds: “Oh, about the rain, and about troubles that can happen and about things in general.” We get the feeling that Chris is unsatisfied with this answer, but the truth of the statement itself is plain.
Find joy in simple things
Nature, family, and even motorcycles can bring wonder and happiness, if you look at them with fresh eyes.
The Author describes finding peace in motorcycle maintenance: “To run a cycle with parts in it you’ve made yourself gives you a special feeling you can’t possibly get from strictly store-bought parts.” The author is able to evoke a feeling of gratitude and appreciation in the reader, even if they have no actual understanding of motorcycles or their maintenance.
He describes the simple enjoyment of eating a sandwich and drinking a beverage after a long motorcycle ride: “Like any food or drink after a hard climb in the mountains, it tastes good.”
Be patient and kind
Hurrying and getting angry only causes problems. Learn to slow down and appreciate each moment.
The Author notes that impatience is a ‘gumption trap’: “Impatience is best handled by allowing an indefinite time for the job…by scaling down the scope of what you want to do.”
Later in the story, the Author helps his son, Chris, hike up the mountain, carrying packs in relays. Chris is tired and lacking energy, complaining loudly throughout the hike. The author’s thoughts express: “Now my own willingness to continue becomes eroded by his tears and his inner sense of defeat passes to me.”
The father wrestles with the concept that his own resolve is being worn down by his son’s complaints, and he helps us realize that patience is the proper solution to the problem.
Help others when they struggle.
Your dad or friends may need encouragement sometimes, just like you do.
The author seeks to help his son when he struggles, though the two have difficulty connecting with each other, at times.
Throughout the story, we hear the valid complaints of an 11-year-old boy who is being asked to undertake a long motorcycle trip with his father. The father-son relationship is based on trust. The son knows his father wants what’s best for him, and the father understands he must make sacrifices to keep his son safe and happy.
That is a worthwhile message for any book.