Archery can be used as a vessel to achieve meditation. Be forewarned, if you have not shot a bow before it does take time, patience, and resilience to achieve meditation through archery. Archery requires both physical and mental preparation. Drawing a bow is a task that requires the use of muscles such as the deltoids, latissimus dorsi, the scapulae and others that people may not regularly employ in everyday tasks. For this reason, when practicing mindful archery the novice archer needs to prepare their physical body to achieve proper shooting technique.
This is where the journey begins. Although, archery requires both physical and mental preparation, we begin with the physical. The body must be warmed up and relaxed for each session. If the archer is a novice, they must become comfortable with the shooting process. USA Archery, the governing body in the United States for Olympic Archery, lists the steps in the shooting process which we have included below:
3. Set (Hook and Grip)
5. Set Up
8. Transfer to Hold
9. Aim Expand
11. Follow Through
12. Relaxation and Feedback
This is the framework we use with beginner archers. It is extremely important for beginners to focus on each step of the process, especially when starting, so that the proper shooting form is acquired. In the beginning, the archer has to become very aware of their body and the subtle shifts that may influence their shot. In this way the archer teaches their body the proper method to achieve a consistently accurate shot. Even though certain spiritual and mental elements are introduced, the main focus is allowing time for the archer to become comfortable with the physical process and to slowly build a relationship with their bow and their body. This process takes some time, and should not be rushed. Archers are encouraged to explore and become fully aware of each moment. Some attention may and will be given to the mind and emotions, but a greater percentage of time will be spent exploring the physical realm of archery.
Following the initial period of becoming comfortable with the bow, the body, and the shooting technique we begin to explore the mental aspect of archery. In no way does this mean that the physical work is done. Rather, it is the time where we continue to work on the physical realm, while introducing more in depth elements of the mental realm of archery. It is at this stage that the archer continues exploring and experimenting with the physical, but begins to pay more attention to their mindset. By now the archer should feel comfortable with the shot process, and certain physical behaviors have become automatic. Not having to worry as much about the physical, here is where the archer begins to explore their mind.
Focusing on the present moment becomes crucial. The work for the archer begins. The archer explores keeping their mind on the present moment and bringing awareness to the minute details that in isolation may not seem so important, but are important to the grand scheme of the ritual. As the archer continues to explore he/she must train their body and mind to respond without thought. The archer must create automaticity (muscle memory) so that the mind does not have to concern itself with what the body is doing. Here is where we work on perfecting the technique to the point where no thought has to be given to the process. Every movement becomes natural: second nature. There is no thinking or overthinking, this leads to a more intuitive shot connected to the ritual which both body and mind have synchronized. Any fluctuation of the mind, or a break in the ritual, will be reflected in the arrow’s trajectory. This is the stage where we see the arrows as a reflection of our mind. Here is where the archer begins to transcend the physical and enters the meditation. At first, unknowingly, for a very brief period of time and then it is gone. However, this is only the beginning. For a new world becomes clear to the archer, and realizations about the self and life start to enter the conscious being. From here on in, the archer must continue the search without searching. The archer must learn to respond without using intellect or rationalization, just pure awareness.