Zen and the Art of Micro-Distillation
In his seminal work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig argues for the existence of something called Quality. There’s such a thing as Quality in this world, he says, and it’s real, not style. According to Pirsig, pursuit of Quality is the impetus for all human endeavor, and the consequence of this effort, what we call art. In this case, the Art of Micro-distillation.
Like many who have contemplated the Path to Enlightenment in terms of their daily existence, Pirsig also hints to the fact that there is as much value in the practice of art as there is in actually creating it. The real beauty of any art, whether in practice or form, is that it serves as a lens, a mirror upon which we can reflect. A person who sets out to practice the Art of Micro-distillation may not initially intend this practice as zen, but as they develop mindfulness through the exercise of their craft they will undoubtedly begin to strip away the trappings, the gilding that is employed to mask the absence of Quality. Through practice, and an unyielding quest for Quality, they distill their art to its essential form, that of pure spirit.
Inviting as that sounds, those of us not fortunate enough to be micro-distillers need not run out and become one. Rather we may rejoice in the inspiration of their example and seek similar attainment through our own pursuit of Quality. In craft, whether by practicing our own or supporting that of others, we can discover a personal path to Quality, the virtue of which is not its only reward.
Practicing a craft lifestyle is itself a manner of such pursuit. It involves developing awareness and making conscious, deliberate choices in order to bring about outcomes that align with a particular set of values, then providing space to appreciate not only those outcomes, but the process of attaining them. It is a manner of living that is based on the contemplation of our relationship with the goods and services we attain, not merely the consumption of them. It is about asking yourself “why am I buying this?” and finding contentment in the answer.
The craft lifestyle also serves to reestablish our connection with natural orders, our relationship with our community and our environment. It gets us thinking about where products come from and who made them, and the implications of the process of their creation. Craft culture is not content with simply taking a box off a shelf and blindly trusting what is written on it. Those who practice a craft lifestyle seek Quality, and will not accept a mere assurance of it. It is something they must determine for themselves.
My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all. — Robert Pirsig