Friday, December 18, 2015

Archery as Meditation

Just to preempt a few questions about this, within this article I will be discussing the use of solo target shooting as a form of mindfulness training through the act of focusing on one thing. Whether this applies to other forms of meditation, or to bow-hunting or competition archery, is another thing entirely. I'm not going to touch on those topics as I've only had experience with the former, and am under-qualified to hypothesize about the latter.

Due to a perceived lack of information on this particular topic, I had to search for a long time, and do a lot of experimentation for myself. So if there's anyone out there who is even remotely interested in this topic, then I hope this article will help them on their own journey in some way.

I have been an avid (if amateur) archer for at least 10 years now, and have been meditating for the last 5 years. A few years ago, I wondered if there could be any overlap between the two... And so I searched.

And searched.

And after quite a while, I couldn't seem to find anything substantial on the topic. I began to wonder if I was onto something new here, or if the reason there wasn't much out there on this specific topic was because it was just a downright silly idea.

Proof, finally!

One day, I came across this Paulo Coelho video:

Finally, some proof that I'm not going crazy. And on top of that, the man who beat me to the punch is someone who's known to be quite, well, wise.

For those of you who may not have been able to play the video, Paulo Coelho speaks briefly about archery as a form of meditation. He speaks about those moments during your shooting "where you are only one thing". Where just before you loose your arrow, you are "totally tense", "and all of a sudden, in the next fraction of a second, totally relaxed".

It's from this video that I was able to really start focusing on some key points during my shooting. The silent contemplation of the next shot, the smooth drawing back of the string, holding for a small amount of time (during which the various muscles engaged in archery are very tense), and finally, that moment after you release. That moment where in the blink of an eye, your position largely hasn't changed, but your whole body is suddenly relaxed. That moment when your arrow has been released from being one with you and your bow, and is off, flying towards the target.

A change in focus...

Instead of focusing on one thing while sitting or otherwise not moving - whether that be your breathing, a guided meditation recording, your posture, on achieving a completely quiet mind (which, incidentally, is my preferred method when practicing meditation while I'm out and about), or something else - your mind and body together are focused, completely, on acting as a single whole through the movements of archery.

... and a different approach

Something to note is that you can still find joy in archery in other, more usual ways. That is to say, you can still enjoy just going out for a shoot and getting great pleasure from seeing how high you can score per X amount of arrows. Perhaps you achieve greater enjoyment from seeing how fast you can shoot accurately. Or maybe you enjoy the act of archery in some other way entirely. That doesn’t have to change at all, and indeed I still often go out for a shoot purely to practice, keep up my skills and get enjoyment from the shooting in and of itself.

But when you go out to use your archery as a session for meditation, you approach the upcoming session in a completely different manner.

To draw a parallel, I used to have a favourite spot at university (when I was still a student) for both eating lunch, and meditating. It was this quiet little spot, by a small waterfall which occurred in the course of the university’s moat. The area was covered by an old willow, and ducks would often come by to hang out. This was a rare spot to find, especially given the university was located in a major city, and even more so considering how few of the other students had discovered the area.

When I went there for lunch, I went there to enjoy the old tree and surrounding flora, the wildlife that frequented the area, the quiet solemnity of this almost magical spot, and of course, the deliciousness of whatever it was I had to eat that day.

But when I went there for a session of meditation, I approached it completely differently. Right from when I left my place of residence, I had put myself in a state of quiet contemplation, and walked there calmly. Once I was there, perhaps I took another quiet moment to appreciate how beautiful this spot is, but then I found my position and began meditating.

So it must be the same with archery. If you are serious about using it as another tool for meditation (and it is just another tool or method, it need not be your only form of meditation), you’ll quickly get over the novelty of the idea, and adjust your way of thinking to the way you would regularly think about meditation. That is: With a calm, quiet mind, focusing purely on the movements and acts of archery... and nothing else.

To re-iterate: Unlike your usual archery sessions, you won’t be caring about how well you’re shooting (or how badly). You’re just focusing on the movements and acts of shooting itself. And after each shot, remember to remain still (physically and mentally), and take a moment for contemplation before you reach for the next arrow.

William Blake, and grains of sand

As Paulo Coelho alludes to in the video linked above, the instant after each shot really can be extraordinary, once you get yourself up to this level of using archery as meditation. The whole quote in the video was:

"William Blake once said, 'You can see the universe in a grain of sand'. He was totally right.
He said, 'You can see eternity in a flower'. He was totally right.
When you can see everything, in one thing only, you really understand the miracle of life."

I believe that it's possible to achieve this state of mind within each and every arrow loosed from your bow.

Some closing words

To any of you out there who may start attempting this method of meditation, I wish you good luck. I found it interesting, and a little tricky to get my head around viewing each of these sessions as a “meditation session”, but once I got there it was truly rewarding. Meditation, and quiet, contemplative, archery, as one – for the soul, what could be better?

If you have any information (from yourself, or from other authors) to share about this topic, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

(Originally published, by me, on - 20/1/2015)

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