The Ego Climber

I found this quote almost 21 years ago when I was 23 years old. It was written well before that , but it so accurately described my sense of urgency at the expense of living in the moment that I almost thought Robert Pirsig wrote it for me. I think it is a beautiful description of a tension we all experience at times, and for me it is a reminder that my goal is internal and within reach.

I’ve had different favorite parts at different stages in my life. Currently, I think my favorite part is that I realize what I want is all around me.

Thanks for reading and sharing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, he’s unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be here. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

By Robert M. Pirsig, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


2 thoughts on “The Ego Climber

  1. One of my favorite quotes comes from that very same book and judging by the similarity, from the very same chapter. This is just a bit more abstract.:

    “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 restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then when you’re no longer thinking ahead, 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 things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.”

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    1. I love it, Rice. I need to contemplate it more deeply. There is some really good stuff there. I think when he’s writing about being passionless he means toward external goals. At least that what I take. I certainly don’t know what he mean, but I am glad writers like Pirsig are there to point more eloquently than I can.

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