This post is going to (attempt) to be short and sweet like Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. What initially drew me to this book was my summer working as an archery instructor at the YMCA. This is where I was affectionately known as “Archery Jake” and had all day to shoot arrows in the warm sun. Herrigel documents his experience learning from a master of Kyudo, a movement practice devoted to Zen and the lessons he learns along the way. Herrigel’s book accomplishes much more than simply detailing the intricacies of nocking arrows and implementing the required discipline. And although I found these descriptions fascinating, I was interested in the connection between movement and flow. This book, like most thoughtful literature, is about more than just its main concept.
Meditation, Mindfulness, and Zen
In the year 2021, the importance of mindfulness grows increasingly more apparent. Maybe being more mindful is a goal of yours and you’re looking for tips and tricks. Maybe you’re trying to meditate and just can’t seem to nail down the habit. Whatever brings you here, there’s something we need to talk about.
Yes, Herrigel writes about the Zen of archery, but he’s also not just writing about the Zen of archery. What we find here is –
When something is more than just that one thing
Something I referenced in my last blog post, A Most Beautiful Thing, is that sports aren’t just about sports. When we practice our craft, our art, we’re practicing mindfulness. The biggest mistake we make is assuming meditation, mindfulness, and Zen are each just one thing. Let’s talk specifics.
Say our goal is to meditate for 10-15 minutes every morning. Maybe we even have an aspiration of sitting to meditate for 25-35 minutes by the end of the year. We have an intention, a time frame, and a goal we’re working towards. Great! We can talk all about habits but there’s still something we’re getting fundamentally wrong. The truth of the matter is, YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME.
What do we mean by that? Before you aggressively disagree with me in the comments below, here’s a quote to help.
So understood, the art of archery is rather like a preparatory school for Zen, for it enables the beginner to gain a clearer view, through the works of his own hands, of events which are not in themselves intelligible.Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel
You don’t have to sit to meditate to reap the benefits of meditation. If meditation, mindfulness, and Zen are about concentration, noting, and going with the flow, then let me be the first to congratulate you on reaching your goal. You’ve already done it!
For Herrigel, Kyudo was just the medium to which he found flow. For you, that will almost certainly be different. You might love going for walks, spending time with your kids, playing a sport with friends, the list goes on. The secret I believe is in our movement. This can range from something as subtle like your breath cycle when you sit to meditate. Or potentially more extravagant endeavors like jumping out of a plane. People look at me sideways when I tell them I get the same mindful feeling from skydiving as I do anything else. Ultimately, it’s just about being present with that feeling and the action. So my challenge to you is to just simply try and notice these moments more in your life. Maybe it’s something small like the color in each budding flower you pass on your walk or the smell in the air when the weather starts to change. Maybe it’s something more personal like a habitual thought or a self-critical dialogue when you get up from your desk and leave work for the day. We must try to notice not only when these thoughts and feelings arise, but also when we let them go. As the seasons change, I hope you lose yourself in something you love. I hope you release the expectations you once had and be as you are. Movement allows for this and so much more. Herrigel leaves us with a final thought,
Bow, arrow, goal and ego, all melt into one another, so that I can no longer separate them. And even the need to separate has gone. For as soon as I take the bow and shoot, everything becomes so clear and straightforward and so ridiculously simple…”Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel
You’ve already experienced Zen and you’ve already discovered what brings you flow.
Just be mindful of when you inevitably find it again.