In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig discusses how peace of mind comes in three levels of quietness: physical, mental and value.
It generally takes some physical quietness to produce mental quietness, and some mental quietness to produce value quietness. However, there’s also many levels within each level, and as we go on, we begin to work on all three at the same time. Anyhow, my interpretation of these levels looks like this:
1. Physical quietness means a relaxed body. Initially it’s helpful to train ourselves in not moving the body—a fun experiment is to see how long you can sit still without needing to adjust your leg, shift your spine, move your tongue or even swallow. Initially, you won’t last much longer than a few minutes (if that), but over time, your body will learn how to let go of tensions and relax itself, which translates into even more relaxed movement across the day.
2. Mental quietness means having no compulsive thinking. Most people who get their body settled soon notice that their mind is wildly thinking all day long, like a butterfly in a meadow, going from one tangent to the next. No compulsive thinking does not mean that thoughts do not happen. Instead, it means becoming instantly aware of our thoughts as they pop into the mind; and, from there, either consciously choosing to explore them (rather than doing it out of compulsion)—or, more likely, letting them go instantly as like 99% of our thoughts, we recognize they serve no real purpose.
3. Value quietness means living truthfully. This means living our duty or purpose without wavering or being pulled aside by temptations, distractions or anything at all. Initially, this means behaviorally, as in not acting on the desire to check facebook, eat a cookie, have an affair or make frivolous purchases. Its deepest level is where we’re so fused with our truth that the desires to go off course don’t even arise anymore.
Sometimes the most powerful thing we can do is be silent. Occasionally, that actually means not talking. But more profoundly it means going about our day-to-day with these three levels of quietness infused in our every action—an absolute embodiment of sincerity.