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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Zen Art of Archery

Tonight, we visited Trader Jan's archery establishment in Fall River. We've been meaning to go for a while, since we bought a gift certificate online. It sounded fun.

I was quickly overwhelmed by the seemingly complex instruction and intimidating proprietor. He was a tough guy, and knew exactly how he wanted you to do this thing. He showed us the basics of Olympic-style archery. When I started, because I was so intimidated I could not relax and was choking up on the bow, sending my arrows flying consistently off-target. That's why he said they were doing that. I couldn't have told you what I was doing.

That's one example of not thinking: I wasn't able to think about what I was doing because I was too busy being defensive. I was in the presence of a very masculine authority figure, and my body was tense and on guard for conflict. I am a very fearful, anxious person. Forget that I had mouthed off to a very non-masculine authority figure earlier in the day. That speaks more to the road rage effect of feeling impervious when shrouded by automotive steel.

Near the end of our lesson, another couple arrived and joined us on the range, and he turned his attention to them. This relieved the pressure I felt some. Finally, once we all knew what to do, he left, and I was able to relax. The female half of the other couple had met Moira before, and that broke some of the tension I would feel towards them. They are in the same book club. As we shot our arrows and then retrieved them, a rhythm developed. Even as my left shoulder ached and my right fingertips started to burn, I became more and more calm.

The main philosophical point of our archery lesson was that you don't aim; you concentrate on the motions of setting your stance, nocking the arrow, drawing and releasing the bow. Rather than concentrating on improving your aim, you focus on perfecting the repetition and consistency of this motion sequence. It is a practice, like meditation or biofeedback or many noble pursuits such as writing. I did not aim the bow, rather I breathed deeply and focussed on the propriety of my actions and I found that the arrow happened to go where I was looking, and my posture and state of mind continued to improve. This is the other example of not thinking: being in the zone.

It was a lesson on this concept of practice. Do the right thing and the results will follow. You don't try to hit the target; you focus on doing the work of operating the bow. Don't concentrate on success; just do each task that you undertake mindfully.