N.C. Harrison discusses how archery practice has helped him cope with rejection.
For some years now, more than a few, I have been engaged, along with my various other pursuits, in the sport of archery. I’d like to say that it was for some deeply spiritual reason, like getting in touch with my Welsh and British ancestors, or even for the purpose of bow hunting and filling up the freezer, like some of my more redneck friends and associates. I must admit, however, that my relationship with the bow and arrow springs from a slightly geekier well. Howard Pyle’s Robin Hood was the first chapter book I read, many moons ago as a little child, and Green Arrow has always been my favorite comic book character. Oliver always seemed, to me at least, so much more real than Batman. He had a kid, for goodness’ sake, and a messy, all too human relationship with a woman regarded at the very least as his equal—and usually his superior, in many ways. Green Arrow also had, and this was probably most important, a truly rocking goatee, and I think this drew me to the clothyard shaft as much as anything else. I bought myself a Bear Warrior II, which was about as much bow as I could handle at that point in my life, and immediately began to scatter arrows all over my parents’ deep country backyard.
I’ve grown since then, as an archer and, I hope, as a person. I hit the target more times than I don’t, at least on a good day, and don’t let it get me down even when I don’t manage this because I’m always looking for that perfect arrow, that perfect shot. One of the main, driving forces behind (and, if I’m not lying, primary rubric for) my pursuit lies in the Japanese martial discipline of kyudo (the way of the bow), a substratum of budo that grows out of the art of kyujutsu, or the type of archery practiced by the samurai in feudal Japan. Kyudo, unlike the Western sports of shooting and bow hunting, is less about aiming at a target and hitting it than creating the optimum internal climate so that the external world can be bent to one’s will. This is expressed by an arrow flying true time after time with no luck but only the perfection of skill and spirit. Paradoxically, this expression is attained not by worrying about the result—arrow hitting target on the center, a thing which might be out of an archer’s control, especially when using the tools of traditional archery like a stickbow—but focusing solely on the process, things which are utterly under the command of an archer as he stands before the target. “Are my feet positioned correctly?” the kyudoka might ask, or “have I nocked the arrow absolutely perfectly?” If I have not, the mature practitioner will say to himself, I will stand here for minutes, hours or days until I have managed it, until I can manage seisha hicchu, true shooting, certain hitting. I am to be truthful not a very mature practitioner, and so my shots tend to be rather wobbly on occasion and my hitting far less than certain. It’s okay, though; I do what I can.
This extends into trying to build the tenets of kyudo into my life in other ways, ones away from the archery range. I see so many young men who get so upset when they approach a woman (or another man, for that matter), ask this person out, and face rejection. Some of them become so upset that they will not put themselves out there and they end up lonely, closed off from the possibility of that kind of companionship. I try to approach this from the manner of the kyudoka: assent to my advance is the arrow striking its target. There are many things I cannot control that might set its flight awry, an errant wind or even the condensation of dew drops on its fletching. The only things that I am able to control are those which happen before I release the arrow, before I make my approach to a person. Likewise, in a business deal, I can only control the product I am trying to sell and the way in which I introduce it to my customer. I cannot promise how he will react to it, but only prepare myself to move gracefully around said reaction.
It is so, so difficult to manage this sort of “mindful not minding,” though. We live in a culture which is totally results oriented. If she says no when I ask her out then there must be something I could have done different, something wrong with her or me, or if he does not buy my product then there must have been something wrong with either my presentation or the product itself. If the arrow does not hit the target then either it must be defective, or my bow, or me. This thinking is, I have learned, less than productive. The wise course of action lies in saying, “so desu ka,” with the flattest intonation possible, nocking another arrow and preparing another shot. It probably won’t be perfect either, but then again neither am I, nor will I be tomorrow. This is hard, though, and probably why so many of my shots fall awry… maybe they’ll fly truer on the next day.