On Quality – a New Book for a New Year

Happy New Year!

As we all know, demand for therapy has been high so I begin to drift away from social media engagement. However, I find myself after these years of covid, culture wars and caution feeling ready to impart some of the wisdom I have gained trying to determine a grounding force to counter a more materialistic, more divided and more isolated modern existence. In this spirit, I feel compelled to renew my relationship with my website and blog and attempt to share more widely some of my observations and philosophy on these matters. 

I want to start this new year discussing the a new book by an old author – On Quality by Robert M. Pirsig. Does that name sound familiar to you? Maybe before your time, but even someone in their 20’s or 30’s might have heard of the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Maybe you read it back in the day, or maybe it’s on your parents’ bookshelf. At any rate, ZaMM as it is lovingly shortened, is one of the best selling philosophy books of all time. 

Pirsig died 6 years ago, and On Quality is a posthumous introduction to his philosophy – the cornerstone which is undefinable yet completely known notion of “Quality”. Pirsig thought that the desire or the stimulus of Quality propelled us along in every second of our lives. And in fact, propelled the world as evidenced by evolution. 

I know a lot of you might be into Buddhism, so let me frame it as: there is a non-dual experience; the unconscious moment in which what is good or what is Quality pokes itself into your unconscious the split second before it becomes conscious. That’s Quality. What is good, becomes known. What is good varies completely in context. In Pirsig’s view you can’t pin it down, but if you listen to yourself, you know what it is.

So, for our purposes, in the context of therapy, in improving our ability to “to work and to love” (as succinctly articulated by Freud) how can Pirsig’s notion of Quality help us to life better lives? At the bottom of using Quality as a guide should be a stance of truthfulness to oneself that you are following that actual Quality versus what you would like it to be – and that can be tough. But how much more honestly and harmoniously could we live if we allowed what is good to guide us?

Therapy in many ways is attempting to teach us to jump on the train of Quality and follow it where it leads rather than guiding it off track – which is why we suffer so. We grasp at preconceived notions rather than allowing the unfolding. Again, you can detect a relationship here to Buddhist thought – in fact Pirsig said directly “The Ultimate goal in the pursuit of excellence is enlightenment”. While therapy is not directly guiding us toward spiritual enlightenment, there is a relationship as truthfulness about ourselves and what we really want and need becomes unveiled through our sessions. 

So that’s where I’m going to leave it for the time being. But I assure you we will return to. In the meantime, I suggest On Quality by the late Robert M. Pirsig, lovingly prefaced and edited by his wife Wendy. Here is a direct link to the publisher’s site:

So, may 2023 be a year of Quality for you!

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