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The more you grasp, the less you hold and the Zen of Archery

self-awareness surrender Apr 22, 2024
A silhouette of an archer standing with a bow, arrow knocked, poised to release. The archer's stance exudes focus and balance, embodying the harmony of Zen philosophy.


The more you grasp, the less you hold.

My swimming instructor was a wise old man who had coached thousands of students in his lifetime.


Upon seeing how poorly I was doing, in spite of being almost 27, one day he told me to listen carefully to what he was saying.


“You’re trying to hold the water, that's why you sink. It is not your job to hold the water. It is water’s job to hold you. Let go. The more you grasp, the less you hold. Trust the water, if you must swim.”


That is the day I learned how to swim.


A mind that finds solutions is not a mind that is frustrated, craving or yearning. It is a clear and calm mind that finds answers.


Everyone in the world is trying hard. So they recommend hard work and struggle as the default way to live.


Look around to see what that does to people. Struggle, conflict and suffering follow when there is craving for success or achievement.


Yes, the idea of success and achievement is a destabilizing force in human society. It leads to constant hustling, grasping, reaching and striving to get ahead.


As you read this, many of you are on this path.


Maybe it is time to reconsider how you are going about it.


Intent is necessary, but not grasping at the object of your intent. That part is unnecessary.


That grasping creates deficiency in the mind. That deficiency brings confusion and pushes away what we desire. 


The more we close our grip the less water we can hold in our palm. The more you splash around in the water, the faster you sink.


This is why working towards a goal feels like working against oneself. 


Half the battle is to make oneself stop sabotaging one’s own goals, or to stop procrastinating, or to stop being so distracted.


When we are conditioned to try hard, we vigorously deny the process of trying easy. We fear that we’ll lose focus and the drive. We’d procrastinate and go off track. We may even be called lazy.


Yet, that is exactly what happens when you try hard.


The more you struggle, the more likely you are to make slow or no progress.


It is time to take a step back. It is time to try less. It is time to try easy.


Zen and Archery


Archery and Zen share a deep and profound connection that transcends mere physical skill. In the practice of archery, every movement, every breath, becomes a meditation—an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness and inner stillness.


The archer learns to let go of attachment to outcomes, focusing instead on the present moment and the alignment of body, mind, and spirit.


Zen archery, known as "Kyudo" in Japanese, emphasizes the harmony between the archer and the bow, the arrow, and the target. It's not about hitting the bullseye, but about shooting with grace, precision, and intention.


The destination is secondary, the archer is primary.


Through the disciplined practice of Kyudo, practitioners learn to quiet the chatter of the mind and access a state of pure awareness—a state where time seems to slow down, and every action arises effortlessly from the depth of being.


In Zen philosophy, the archer doesn't aim; they become one with the target. Just as the archer releases the arrow without hesitation, at the right moment, so too must we learn to let go of attachments, expectations, and fears, and find trust in our innate intuition.


This is the way accomplish difficult things.


For difficult tasks do not respond to force. They respond to calm focus and flow.


Creativity is not a product of force and pressure either. It’s a product of enjoyment, exploration and ease. 


Satisfaction in life doesn’t come from desperately crashing towards your goals but through enjoying the process of getting there, without internal resistance.


Dedication, determination and effort are important but they can turn against you if you do not understand how to balance them with a feeling of internal harmony. 


Most of the people we know are living aimlessly. Those who are not, are falling into the second trap - they are hyper-focused on the target.


They have their arrows knocked in the bow, but its pressure they cannot withstand. It builds doubt, fear & anxiety.


Be a good archer. The one who has an eye on the target, but who is also one with the bow.


One who is not battling oneself, and therefore, has no enemy.


The one whose arrow is knocked, but is in no rush to release it.


One whose actions are as much a doing, as much as they are a happening.



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