I took up archery during quarantine, and it’s the closest I get to zen

When my husband and I left Brooklyn to take care of my father-in-law during the pandemic, all sense of routine and relaxation went out the window.I started practicing archery every day in our backyard, and it’s making me more calm than I’ve been in months. The simple repetitive action of knocking the arrow, drawing the bowstring, and making the choice to let go lulls me into a sense of serenity.The idea of archery as meditation isn’t new — German philosopher Eugene Hegel wrote “Zen in the Art of Archery” in 1948.I used to rely on an elaborate urban self-care system of hot yoga, mani-pedis, and smoothie bowls to relax, but I now realize I don’t need them.Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When my husband and I packed up our car and drove from Brooklyn to his father’s farmhouse in Feura Bush, a tiny hamlet outside of Albany, NY with a population of 1,500, we were thinking about the pure joy we’d feel just being able to walk around outside.It was early March, back when we thought the coronavirus lockdowns would last a few weeks at most. We were optimistic as we loaded essential kitchen items and work clothes into our car.The farmhouse is perched on a 20-acre lot, and most of it is made up of woodlands that lead up a steep hill to a nature preserve. We could hike, garden, split wood, and drink our morning coffee on the back patio. For two people who had been sharing 500 square feet of space for over two weeks, it seemed like a dream. It took about a week for the novelty to wear off.

Drinking coffee outdoors feels luxurious in 2020.

Carina Finn

We quickly settled into a routine of never-ending farm chores, remote work, and taking care of my father-in-law, a 76-year old with moderate Alzheimer’s disease. We hadn’t anticipated how challenging it would be to spend all day, every day reminding someone what month it was when we were having a hard time keeping track of the days ourselves.

By the second week, fatigue had started to set in.”We haven’t taken a break,” I realized aloud one night while cleaning up from dinner. “Everything we’re doing is work.” The next day, my husband dug out his old compound bow from his days as a 7-year-old squirrel hunter. The bow is youth-sized and technically too small even for me, standing just over five feet tall.We fashioned a target out of a piece of plywood and set it out in the side yard.

I had never shot a compound bow before, but the moment I picked it up I felt somehow more calm. The simple repetitive action of knocking the arrow, drawing the bowstring, and making the choice to let go lulled me into a sense of serenity I hadn’t felt in weeks. 

One of the keys to archery is repeating the same actions every time.

Carina Finn

Since then, archery has become a grounding ritual for us. We made a better target out of a giant cardboard box stuffed with fabric, and drew a giant coronavirus caricature on the front. Shooting at the source of our frustration felt cathartic.It’s also a rare source of genuine happiness for my father-in-law, who loves to heckle us while we shoot.On my best days, when I pick up the bow to shoot, I think about nothing. It’s the closest I’ve been to zen since the beginning of the pandemic, when New York City shuttered, turning my life upside down.

I used to be the kind of person who relied on an elaborate urban self-care system of hot yoga, mani-pedis, and smoothie bowls to achieve a sense of calm. Now that those things are impossible for me to attain, I’ve learned that I don’t actually need them. 

Smoothie bowls do not actually solve problems.

Carina Finn

The idea of archery as meditation is not new.In 1948, German philosopher Eugen Herrigel published “Zen in the Art of Archery,” detailing his time as a student of Kyūdō in 1920s Japan. The publication is widely credited with introducing the concept of zen to Western readers, and spawned a rash of spin-off titles, like “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”In the book, Herrigel describes his experience of the archer’s unique brand of zen, saying: “The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bulls-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill.”

You don’t need fancy equipment to make an archery target — a cardboard box works fine.

Carina Finn

Everything I know about archery, I learned from a combination of YouTube and texting a friend who happens to have trained in field archery. Perfecting my technical skill I am not, but I am dedicated to the practice of being less self-conscious.

Given our unusual circumstance, it’s all too easy to end a day feeling both exhausted and unproductive, leading to a depressive spiral that usually ends with crying into some dessert while watching Netflix. If I’ve shot a round of archery that day, whether or not I did it well, I can still say that I made progress. That’s the thing about engaging in a practice — to do it right, you don’t need to have achieved anything in particular. The goal is just to do it, and to keep doing it.Because I’m a person with perfectionist tendencies, I’m sure that someday I will want to be able to hit the bulls-eye every time. For now, it’s enough just to carve out space in my day for practice, and the promise of a moment of zen.Read more:

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