"The right shot at the right moment does not come because you do not let go of yourself. You do not wait for fulfillment but brace yourself for failure."
- Master Awa Kenzo (Zen in the Art of Archery)
My last parting shot for accomplishment for this year past and this year coming derives from the above statement in Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. Herrigel, who lived for several years in Japan in the 1920's studied kyudo (The Way of the Bow) as part of his quest to understand Zen. His text chronicles the process he went through to achieve both mastery of the bow and mastery of Zen.
I had read the book some years ago when I got it but picked it up again to fill a few hours during the holiday. What I never saw before leaped out at me (always the way with the greatest of books, there is something new to be discovered). The most prominent of them is the above quote.
"You do not wait for fulfillment but brace yourself for failure." How often and how much this is true in my own life. How many times have I picked up something - with the thought in my mind that it is not going to go well? How many times - more true now than ever, it seems - have I started something with the thought in the back of my head that this is ultimately going to go nowhere, to end up as a waste of time and energy?
I subconsciously knew this. But the Master's quote put it all into perspective. I can now see myself, every time, bracing myself for failure rather than waiting for success (fulfillment, if you will).
How do I overcome this? The Master in Herrigel's book gave suggested the sort of thing a Zen master might: Herrigel must learn to do things purposelessly and aimlessly. Only by letting going of himself - by not trying specifically to hit the target with the arrow - will he learn to hit the target with the arrow.
Alas, I am no Zen student and purposelessness and aimlessness are not things that I can readily apply to my daily life. What I can manage - and in some small way perhaps this is what is being gotten at - is worrying less about the result and more about simply doing my best.
This does not obliterate the need for practice and hard work of course, nor does it suggest that I should not be aiming for something (even the Master acknowledged that ultimately they were shooting at a target). What it does mean is that I need to be less concerned with the final results before the final result comes: in other words, waiting for fulfillment (achievement, accomplishment) instead of bracing myself for the failure I have so often felt was inevitably going to come. If I just changed these two expectations, what would things be like?
I am not sure that this resolves the whole issue. What I am sure of is that we never "brace" ourselves for something good - and if that is what we find ourselves doing all the time, something needs to change.